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A Quirk in the Electrical System at the "Green" David L. Lawrence Convention Center
in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Has Cost Taxpayers $70,000 to $100,000
a Year Since 2003 in Wasted Power Penalties

By Jeremy Boren, The Pittsburgh Tribune-ReviewMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 08, 2011--A first study of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center's "green building" features has uncovered a quirk in its electrical system that has cost taxpayers $70,000 to $100,000 a year in wasted-power penalties charged by Duquesne Light Co. since 2003.

"I would like to know how they just brought it up now," said Chuck Binion, 57, a custodian from Squirrel Hill. "My rent is $350 a month, and I know about every bill that comes into my house. They should know about their own house."

Known as a "power correction factor penalty," the extra charge shows the 1.5 million-square-foot center does not run as efficiently as possible and that wasted electricity accounted for 6 percent to 8 percent of its yearly bill, which was $1.27 million in 2010.

"It is wasted energy in a sense," said Steven Musial, an electrical engineer at CJL Engineering in Moon. "It's like the foam on a head of beer. A lot of foam is not desirable. It doesn't do anything for you. The power isn't in the foam; it's in the beer."

The $373 million center's website touts its LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council and includes the slogan "Built Green. Working Green. Every day!" LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and the rating is a measure of how efficiently it uses water, electricity and other resources.

It's unclear if "power factor" is included in the rating. A council spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

Mary Conturo, executive director of the Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns the Downtown building, said officials were aware of the problem, but it was "a learning process" to figure out how to address it and determine the cost.

Power-hungry air conditioners, transformers and certain types of lights erode the power efficiency of many large commercial and industrial buildings.

The convention center's power factor varies between 65 percent and 85 percent, Musial said, noting that 95 percent or higher is considered a desirable range.

To solve the problem, the SEA's board of directors on Thursday approved spending $303,945 to purchase two large capacitors.

"Larger buildings routinely have these power factor penalties unless they have these capacitors," Conturo said.

Musial designed the units. They could be installed as soon as August.

"Capacitors would get rid of the inactive energy. It is making the system more electrically efficient for the building and the utility," he said.

The Green Building Alliance study, which is not completed, prompted the authority to act. The SEA chipped in $60,400 for the study, and The Heinz Endowments contributed a grant of $540,000 last year.

Musial, who worked at Duquesne Light for 28 years before joining CJL, said many large commercial buildings incur power factor penalties that building owners learn about after a record of power usage is established.

"If you're paying attention to your bill, you would see it," he said.

Aurora Sharrard, the alliance's director of innovation, said the capacitors will produce a significant savings.

"It's a three-year payback, and then these capacitors are going to continue to be in place. They're not the type of technology that degrades over time," Sharrard said. "It's a really good investment."

Sharrard believes the case study is unique in its goal to examine "what's working and what could be better" about a certified green building.

"It's sort of like a lessons-learned case study that we can use for other green buildings locally and nationally," she said.


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Copyright (c) 2011, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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