3 Ways Cities are Leading in Energy Innovation

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This is the second blog in a series on why the key to protecting our environment lies in city innovation.

This word cloud captures city leaders’ responses when asked to describe their commitment to sustainability.

It’s no accident that “energy” is one of the main components of city sustainability plans. If we drilled down, much of these efforts likely focus on buildings. With buildings representing 39 percent of the nation’s energy use, 72 percent of electricity use and one third of all global greenhouse gas emissions, city leaders know that a key to meeting their sustainability goals lies in reducing the energy use of their building stock, whether by encouraging energy efficiency or renewable energy use, or both.

As the Georgetown Energy Prize launches today, and in continued celebration of Earth Day (and really, shouldn’t every day be Earth Day), below are some game changers in city energy:

1. Net Zero Energy Use – Fort Collins, CO and Salt Lake City

From the country’s first net zero energy district to the first net zero public safety building, cities are innovating with technical solutions to reduce energy use.

The City of Fort Collins, along with Colorado State University and the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster in 2007 created the nation’s first net zero energy district, FortZED, to produce more energy than it uses from both electric and thermal sources.

Using smart grid technology and renewable energy sources, FortZED has the potential to create 200-300 new permanent jobs focusing on clean energy, energy conservation and the systems to support smart grids.

The Salt Lake City Public Safety Building is the first public safety building in the nation to achieve a net zero rating. Home to the city’s police and fire departments as well as emergency dispatchers, the 175,000-square-foot building utilizes a vast array of rooftop solar panels, as well as an off-site solar farm, to achieve the net zero rating.

Whereas a traditional building of this size would produce 2670 metric tons of greenhouse gases each year, this building will produce just 524 metric tons per year.

2. PACE Programs Move Forward – South Florida and Los Angeles

In September 2013, the cities of Miami, Miami Shores, South Miami, Pinecrest, Cutler Bay, Palmetto Bay and Coral Gables, Florida jointly formed the Clean Energy Green Corridor with YGrene Energy Fund to launch Florida’s first Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program enabling property owners to finance renewable energy, energy efficiency upgrades and hurricane protection measures over the long-term through their property tax bill.

The South Florida PACE program is one of seven active residential PACE programs, despite objections from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. NLC supports legislative efforts to allow state and local governments to develop and implement such programs.

Meanwhile, cities continue to develop commercial PACE programs to offer these same benefits of reducing the high upfront costs and reaping long-term cost savings to the business community.

To date there are 26 active commercial PACE programs, and more than $60 million in financing extended for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, the biggest of which is a $7 million project at the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City.

3. Green Design for Affordable Housing – Seattle

Building on the theme of equity that my colleague Neil Bomberg has written about in connection with the World Urban Forum, city leaders realize that sustainable design practices are not just for the wealthy and that affordable housing doesn’t have to mean lower quality housing.

According to the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI), of which NLC is a partner, low-income households typically spend 14 percent of their total income on energy costs compared with 3.5 percent for other households.

By incorporating energy efficient appliances, lighting and windows, tankless hot water heaters and whole house fans, among other amenities, into affordable and mixed-income housing, the High Point Redevelopment project in Seattle provides numerous health and environmental benefits to all income levels—not to mention reduced utility expenses for residents.

The retention of 100 mature trees, not only adds aesthetic value, but reduces home energy costs and carbon emissions.

Carolyn Berndt

About the author: Carolyn Berndt is the Principal Associate for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.


1 comments on “3 Ways Cities are Leading in Energy Innovation”

  1. Absolutely agree. Energy is a key challenge – and opportunity! – for cities on their quest to become more sustainable. Great to see some good initiatives on their way.

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