Cities Take Steps to Reduce Energy Consumption and Save Money

'Neighborhood Energy Captains' take on the challenge

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Posted: Monday, August 30, 2010 1:30 pm

While renewable energy systems continue to make the headlines, an old standby is quietly shrinking the carbon footprint of cities across the country. Communities everywhere are reducing consumption by increasing efficiency.

Among the municipalities making energy conservation a high priority, the City of Baltimore has several programs and projects that promote efficiency.

"One of our first and most successful programs has been the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge," said Beth Strommen, sustainability director for the city. The program was launched in August 2009 as a pilot in eight of Baltimore's neighborhoods, she said. The neighbor-to-neighbor based outreach program recruits and trains volunteer "Neighborhood Energy Captains" to talk to their neighbors about energy efficieny and to encourage neighborhoods to take a public pledge to reduce their energy use.

"During the pilot, participants saw electricity reductions as high as 12.8 percent and because of this success, our pilot program has garnered national attention," Strommen said. "We are currently expanding the program by adding 12 neighborhoods and specific outreach components for schools, communities of faith and nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

"Another very successful program is our Community Energy Savers Grant program, which is geared directly to nonprofit organizations in the city of Baltimore," she said. The city has more than 1,200 nonprofit organizations that provide a range of services for residents. Through the grant program, nonprofits can apply for one of three levels of funding:

Tier 1: Energy Audit - nonprofits can apply to have a free energy audit completed on their building.

Tier 2: Retrofits - up to $50,000 is available to perform energy retrofits on buildings owned by the organization.

Tier 3: Community Outreach and Education - organizations can apply to receive up to $50,000 to create and implement their own outreach programs that educate the public in energy conservation and provide data-driven results showing a reduction in energy use.

"Within the next three months, we will be launching a Commercial Energy Challenge, which will provide outreach, education and services to businesses within our designated ‘Main Streets' commercial districts," Strommen said. In all, the city currently has 18 energy-related projects with the goal to reduce the community's energy use 15 percent by 2015.

"Reducing our electricity consumption can help improve our air quality, reduce our dependence on foreign fuels, curb our greenhouse gas emissions, prevent the construction of more power plants, reduce the risk of blackouts, and save us all money on electric bills," she said.

"By equipping our buildings to use less energy and informing our community about how to conserve, we can mitigate the effects of potential price increases in the future," Strommen said. These efforts align well with existing state and federal programs such as the EmPOWER Maryland Initiative, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's goal of reducing electricity consumption in the state 15 percent by 2015, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Energy Star program of which the city of Baltimore is a member, she said.

Bill Veno, senior planner for the Martha's Vineyard Commission, a regional planning agency for Dukes County, Massachusetts, said energy conservation is a subject his agency takes seriously.

"We have some review authority over larger projects. So, we incorporate some consideration of energy consumption in that deliberative process," he said. "Are they trying to minimize the amount of energy consumption? Have they sited the property such to maximize their ability to capitalize on solar energy, for example? Are they providing pedestrian and bicycle facilities in order to promote alternative means of transportation? That's the kind of review process we have in evaluating the projects that come to us."

The Island Plan, adopted by the Martha's Vineyard Commission in December 2009, set a goal of reducing energy consumption on the island 50 percent by 2050. The plan is funded by:

• The six communities of Martha's Vineyard

• The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development - District Local Technical Assistance

• The Massachusetts Department of Transportation

• The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation

• The Edey Foundation

• The Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha's Vineyard

• Private donors

The city of Helena, Montana recently adopted new energy code regulations endorsed by the state. New homes and buildings will have to meet the new energy code. The city has also partnered with its local energy company, NorthWestern Energy, to do free household energy audits and make improvements in 150 Helena households, according to City Manager Ronald J. Alles.

"We're working with NorthWestern Energy in order to approve the homes that will receive the energy audits and improvements. Then we will tally those results over time ... and, hopefully, we can demonstrate to the rest of the community that if they make these improvements to their homes, they will save this much money over, say, a five-year period," Alles said. Energy efficiencies have also been made at city government facilities.

The city of Pierre, South Dakota will be upgrading its streetlight lamps with more energy efficient lamps.

"Our big project this year is the energy efficiency grant that we received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We received $61,700 for energy efficient streetlights," said Brad Palmer, utilities director for the City of Pierre. The city has decided to purchase induction lamps and is currently accepting bids.

Palmer expects the city to get a pay back in five to seven years. He expects the city to save approximately $10,000 per year.

"There are two parts to the savings. These lamps are generally maintenance-free, so we save labor on them. These induction lamps also last longer than our current technology, which is sodium vapor. So, we're anticipating additional labor savings there because we won't have to go out and replace lights as often," Palmer said.

Another project that the City of Pierre is considering for the future is a demand management program, which will be coordinated with the city's energy providers.

"We'll have a system in place that will allow customers to have a lower rate if they allow the city and our energy providers to adjust their heat pumps and/or water heaters. We're probably two to three years away from that technology," Palmer said.

"We're looking at sustainability from a practical standpoint. Because of the stress that is placed on the electrical infrastructure, the biggest item out there right now is how to decrease the peak demand. There are times of the day when we stress the system out because we need a lot of electricity. So, that's what we're trying to focus on as far as energy efficiency goes.

"The programs such as the energy efficient streetlights and the demand management systems are part of the way we do business now. I think it's what we have to incorporate into our business every year. So, I think it's something that is here to stay and we're going to be looking at more and more of it down the road," Palmer said.

Pierre also has a program called "Bright Energy Solutions," which partners with a local energy provider to give residential users rebates on Energy Star appliances, and provides incentives to businesses that use energy efficient products for lighting, motors, pumps and HVAC systems.

"The Bright Energy Solutions program has exceeded our expectations," Palmer said.

The city of Ypsilanti, Michigan's Department of Public Services has begun a three-year project to reduce energy consumption in city buildings.

An energy and conservation efficiency revolving fund was established by the City Council in its 2009-2010 budget. An initial $250,000 was placed into the fund to begin making improvements. Savings from the improvements will go back into the fund to pay for improvements in later years.

Council member Pete Murdock proposed the fund. He pointed out that the city has a baseline energy level in each of its buildings from which it can measure energy that is saved. But, because energy rates will probably increase in future years as savings are realized, it's difficult to determine how much money will be saved.

"Our goal is to try to reduce energy costs as much as we can. We're going to go after some low hanging fruit, which is lighting," Stan Kirton, director of Ypsilanti's Department of Public Services said. The first phase of the project includes replacing the T-12 fluorescent bulbs in the police station, fire department and city hall to T-8 fluorescent bulbs, which use less wattage and are more efficient. The city will replace as many T-12 lights with T-8 lights as possible in other city buildings in the first year of the project, he said.

"The fire department and police department buildings are open 24 hours per day, seven days per week. So, they use the lights a lot. Eventually, we'll install some motion detector lights in areas that aren't used very much," Kirton said. New windows will also be installed in the fire department.

The next phase will include a new boiler, HVAC upgrades and motion-detector switches at city hall. The police department will also receive HVAC upgrades, he said.

The city of Decatur, Ill. received an energy efficiency grant from the federal government approximately 1-½ years ago. "We were able to use a small portion of that to develop our own sustainability plan; a master plan that we've been working on for approximately eight months," said Stephanie Ashe, development planner for the city of Decatur. "We're having community meetings, focus groups and public hearings in order to create and promote sustainability throughout Decatur. There is a lot going on," she said.

A key goal in the draft Sustainable Decatur Plan is for energy consumption to be reduced by 25 percent in households and 10 percent in businesses by 2030.

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