The U.S. Capitol’s New Energy Efficient Hat (Maybe)


If lighting is the jewelry of a piece of architecture, the U.S. Capitol may soon be dressing to impress – if Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has her way. Pelosi is seeking to illuminate the Capitol dome with energy efficient lighting, making it a literal, physical example of environmental responsibility.

According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, the goal of the project is to set an energy-saving example for the rest of the country. (The bulbs would use 70 percent less energy than the dome’s current lighting system). The project would also enhance dome viewers’ “visual experience,” a lighting consultant reportedly said. (Currently, the dome is lit with 38 20-year-old 1000-watt metal halide lamps, which the new project would replace with 128 35-210 watt bulbs.)

The lighting proposal is the central piece of Pelosi’s Green the Capitol initiative, which includes a number of additional measures (for example, introducing compostable containers and biodegradable utensils in the House cafeterias and printing House members’ dining room menus on recycled paper).

Critics of the lighting project are concerned about its $1-million-plus price tag. Some lawmakers believe that, in a time of recession and unprecedented national debt, there are more urgent uses for taxpayers’ money. Moreover, it would be 50 years before the project generated enough savings to compensate for its initial investment.

With adequate support, the project, already a year behind schedule, could begin next summer.

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.

3 responses

  1. This kiind of thinking is long overdue at the federal level. Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the White House. Ronald Raygun quickly had them removed. One role of government is to lead and set an example, not just fret about the economy and what the payback is. Oregon’s state capitol has had solar panels for years illuminating the statue on their dome. Those buildings with a central rotunda and dome flanked by flat roofed wings are ideal for solar or PV panels. Abraham Lincoln understood the symbolic power of the US Capitol dome during the Civil War, Nancy Pelosi is right on!

  2. This an absolutely idiotic waste of money. It will do more to fuel the arguments against energy efficiency because of the ridiculous cost to benefit ratio of the project. Furthermore over the 50 years that it takes to recoup the intial investment the million dollar increase to the national debt will cost us 10’s of millions. With low hanging fruit everywhere in the area of energy efficiency such a grandstanding boondoggle is shameful. Moron.

  3. One of the more cost effective ways of doing this is to replace elements as they reach end of natural life – so replace lights with new ones as old ones die. Of course this may not be possible with a single architectural lighting project, but something to consider.

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