Energy Efficiency and Renewables: Municipalities Increasingly Get It

March 3, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

Minneapolis energy manageIf projects finished ahead of time are good news to stakeholders, there are plenty of reasons to smile in West Palm Beach, Florida. City officials there completed the required shaving of 20 percent off energy use required by the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge five years early – and are planning to reduce it by 15 percent more, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Though perhaps the most dramatic, West Palm is far from the only municipalities making impressive energy efficiency gains and/or cutting use. “We see municipalities increasingly recognizing that implementing energy efficiency programs and deploying renewable energy holds tremendous potential to save their community significant money, enhance the health and well-being of their residents, reduce their environmental impact, and directly contribute to the growth of the local economy,” wrote Christofer Nelson, the Project Director of The Georgetown Energy Prize, a nationwide contest aimed at municipalities that is sponsored by Georgetown University.

The story says that West Palm Beach efforts to reduce energy in what eventually was 1.4 million square feet of buildings began in 2011. The city plans to cut 15 percent more by 2025.

The Department of Energy’s press release on the project focused on the benefits of LED changeout. In 2011, a comprehensive plan was put in place to replace the LEDs, which used one quarter of the energy consumed by the city. The new lights reduce consumption by 54 percent, which is $160,000 annually. The city is replacing 3,000 more street lights in a $2.5 million project expansion during the next five years.

West Palm Beach is far from the only municipality working to increase energy efficiency.

In Minneapolis, five energy companies – BHE Renewables, SolarStone Partners, SunShare, TruNorth Solar and U.S. Solar Corp. – have won contracts to finance, construct and operate solar gardens on private lands. They will supply the electricity to multiple recipients, including Minneapolis and many other municipalities, according to The Star Tribune.

The story says that 40 MW to 50 MW will be provided to 23 cities, three counties, the Met Council and other agencies. The electricity will be fed into Xcel Energy’s distribution network and the parties to the 25-year agreement will get credit on their electric bills.

The amount each will get, the story says, will vary. The story says that Minneapolis expects to save $8,000 annually.

The city of Torrington last month received a $15,000 grant from Eversource for its participation in the Energy Connecticut Clean Energy Communities program, which asks municipalities to reduce building energy usage by 20 percent, transition to renewables for 20 percent of what is used and make other changes. The grant will fund a swap out of legacy bulbs for LEDs, the story says.

On the west coast, the city of Bellingham, WA, is two months into what Mayor Kelli Linville christened “Energy Year.” The title is an umbrella for a number of projects. The story says that the biggest is the Bellingham Energy Prize. The goal is to win the $5 million in the Georgetown University Energy Prize. It currently is in eighth place in the competition. Other elements of Energy Year are capital improvements to schools and municipal buildings and a water efficiency program. The city is getting rebates from Puget Sound Energy and Cascade Natural Gas.

Late last year, Massachusetts added 19 cities to the list of Green Communities, which is administered by the Department of Energy Resources. The communities, which are in the western part of the state, collectively will receive more than $3.1 million for clean-energy and energy efficiency projects. MassLive says that the program now has 155 participating communities. Each has committed to reducing energy consumption by 20 percent over five years, purchasing only energy-efficient vehicles and taking other steps.

Georgetown’s Nelson points to increased involvement at the civic level. “Since launching the Georgetown University Energy Prize in 2014, we’ve only seen this interest grow among municipalities in all parts of the country, with every possible demographic, political, and economic makeup.”

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