Community Energy Planning – Establishing a Benchmark & Energy Efficiency

June, 24, 2013
Community Energy

As many local governments, municipal planners, and public officials across the country are recognizing the environmental and other dangers of climate change and pledging themselves to document and implement reductions in GHG emissions, the economic benefits associated with energy efficiency have made implementing these measures in many communities a priority.  Using tools such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Portfolio Manager, The Climate Registry’s Climate Registry Information System (CRIS), or ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability’s Clean Air and Climate Protection software (CACP 2009), many municipalities are calculating, independently verifying, and reporting energy consumption and annual GHG emissions data.  These tools help municipalities collect energy consumption and cost data by benchmarking their energy use and performance, assessing energy management goals over time, helping identify strategic opportunities for savings, and providing public recognition for energy saving progress.


The Pace Energy & Climate Center, recently released Sizing Up Progress Toward ‘15 by 15’: A 2012 EEPS Update to the Fall 2012 report, Energy Efficiency in New York: Midcourse Status Report of '15 by 15'. The reports documents New York's progress toward its '15 by 15' energy efficiency target, and the May 2013 update focuses on the 2012 achievements toward the electric EEPS portion of the '15 by 15' target. Along with energy savings data from NYSERDA and New York's investor-owned utilities through December, 2012, this update offers a set of recommendations to increase the effectiveness of New York's efficiency programs.


As noted in the original '15 by 15' Report, New York’s 2009 State Energy Plan prescribed five key objectives: (1) maintain reliability; (2) reduce GHG emissions; (3) stabilize energy costs and improve economic competitiveness; (4) reduce public health and environmental risks; and (5) improve energy independence. To that end, the State Energy Plan identified “energy efficiency as the priority resource for meeting its multiple objectives.”  While the implementation of efficiency measures does address each of these five objectives, it is energy efficiency’s cost effectiveness that makes it such an attractive resource.  Improving energy efficiency is one of the most constructive and cost–effective ways to address the challenges of high energy prices, air pollution, and global climate change. Energy efficiency improvements include both environmental and economic benefits.  Increased efficiency can lower greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, as well as decrease water use and utility bills.


Community Energy Planning is a process for reviewing and evaluating community options for the more efficient and sustainable use of energy. The first step in Community Energy Planning is often conducting detailed energy audits and making energy efficiency improvements.  This typically starts with reviewing all of the heating and electric bills for a building or set of buildings, and inspecting the building envelope, heating and lighting systems for efficiencies or potential improvements.  Several resources are available to help municipalities conduct energy audits and finance energy efficiency improvements, especially improvements related to heating, lighting, and insulating building envelopes.  For example in New York, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has several low-cost Energy Audit programs and financing tools to implement recommended saving opportunities, and most electric utility companies will provide lighting audits that can be implemented with on bill financing that utilizes savings to pay for recommended improvements.


With state agencies and utilities offering competing programs, it can be confusing for communities to know which programs in which to participate.  This is why Pace Energy & Climate Center’s 2012 EEPS Update recommends reforming the current program structure in which NYSERDA and the utilities compete for the same customers and replacing it with a more coordinated and holistic approach to state energy efficiency programs.


In the meantime, we recommend communities participate in all available audits and then compare the costs and payback of recommended improvements.  Once energy efficiency measures are completed, tracking the energy and dollar savings in utility bills and inputting usage back into the tools discussed above enables communities to calculate, have independently verified, and report energy and dollar savings as well as reductions in GHG emissions.  These savings and energy successes should be celebrated, creating a positive foundation to build to more robust community energy projects such as CHP (combined heat and power) and Microgrids, which will be discussed in more detail in subsequent posts on the Pace Energy & Climate Center's Blog.  Additionally, the Center’s Community Energy Program brings together the latest strategies in energy efficiency, cogeneration of electricity and thermal energy for heating and cooling, distributed renewable energy, smart grid and demand response through multi-building applications and microgrids.