The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

State Department to be powered by prison labor

The State Department has found a way to save energy, save money, and rehabilitate federal prisoners all in one fell swoop. Soon, a portion of the energy that keeps the lights on in Foggy Bottom will come from solar panels built by prison inmates in New Jersey "Yesterday, the Department of State had a signing ceremony ...

The State Department has found a way to save energy, save money, and rehabilitate federal prisoners all in one fell swoop. Soon, a portion of the energy that keeps the lights on in Foggy Bottom will come from solar panels built by prison inmates in New Jersey

"Yesterday, the Department of State had a signing ceremony that basically contracted the State Department with Baltimore’s Constellation Energy, to enter into an agreement to procure renewable electricity from Constellation Energy through the Federal Prison Industry’s contracting expertise," said Marguerite Coffey, director of the State Department’s Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation. "It was a very, very well attended event."

Coffey, who is also executive secretary of the department’s "Greening Council," said the goal was to advance President Barack Obama‘s pledge to reduce federal greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2020.

Bloomberg Government (subscription required) broke the news of the deal on Thursday afternoon. (Full disclosure: the journalist has a personal relationship with The Cable reporter.)

The project will speed development of a 17.5-megawatt wind farm in Pennsylvania and a 5-megawatt solar project in New Jersey. There will be 10 State Department facilities partially powered by the new renewable sources, including the State Department’s headquarters on C Street. The total energy purchased will make up 65 to 70 percent of the energy needs of those 10 facilities.

The State Department has signed a 20-year contract with Constellation Energy, and the renewable sources will comprise about 45 percent of the energy being purchased. State is partnering with Federal Prison Industries, a corporation wholly owned by the federal government, on the contract. The contract is between State and Constellation but FPI managed the competition. 

No new funds need to be appropriated for the project. The deal is an "energy savings performance contract," so the company figures out how much the government will save, and State pays them that amount each year until the costs of developing the project are paid off.

"This innovative agreement serves as a model for federal agency energy management with a cost-effective, public-private effort that will create jobs through the development of clean energy resources," said Mayo Shattuck, chairman, president and CEO of Constellation Energy, in a press release about the deal. "We especially appreciate this opportunity to work with the State Department on an energy contract that supports President Obama’s clean energy goals for the nation."

Will Congress follow State’s cost-cutting, energy-saving example and start buying renewable power created through prison labor?

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin