Energy powers cities and counties. It provides light and heat. It runs most machines, large and small, stationary and transitory. It can be contained in batteries, used on site, or distributed via a grid. It can be generated by physical or chemical processes. And, per the first law of thermodynamics, it can neither be created nor destroyed… only transferred or changed from one form to another.
Managing energy in a city or county involves a complex system that includes influencing generating sources, distribution, end uses, and byproducts. Sustainable energy systems seek to diminish environmental and socioeconomic impacts of maintaining an energy-reliant culture.
One of the STAR Communities Goal Areas is Climate & Energy. Greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted from energy-producing facilities have been identified as a key influencer of the Earth’s changing climate. According to the American Chemical Society, the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and their marked rate of change are largely attributable to human activities since the Industrial Revolution (1800). For more information on what communities can do and are doing to address climate impacts, download the STAR Communities Climate Change Guide.
This article delves into outcome (quantitative) and action (qualitative) measures that directly address energy and highlights how several STAR Communities are working towards sustainable energy systems. These are arranged by two objectives: CE-3 Greening the Energy Supply and CE-4 Energy Efficiency.
CE-3 Greening the Energy Supply
This objective considers efforts to transition the local energy supply for both transportation and non-mobile sources toward renewable, less carbon-intensive, and less toxic alternatives.
There has been a marked increase in the number of electric vehicles and those utilizing fuels other than gasoline and diesel over the past 10 years. National networks, like the Clean Cities Coalitions, and programmatic efforts, like EV Ready Cities, have offered cities and counties many resources. The Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuel Data Center tracks data on availability of fueling stations at the local level and provides an important resource for consumers in a nascent market. The City of Atlanta recently passed a 100 percent clean energy resolution that requires all new residential homes and public parking facilities to accommodate electric vehicles.
- Outcome 1: Option A: Demonstrate that the number of private and public electric vehicle stations meets or exceeds 1.07 per 100,000 residents –OR– Option B: Demonstrate that the number of private and public alternative fuel stations meets or exceeds 1.52 per 100,000 residents
- Action 4: Establish partnerships between fleet managers, alternative fuel suppliers, and consumers to elevate alternative fuel options within the community
- Action 9: Install public-use alternative fueling stations
For the purposes of STAR, renewable energy facilities are defined as those that use biomass, solar thermal, photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, fuel cells using renewable fuels, small hydroelectric of 30 MW or less, hydroelectric that is third-party certified low impact, digester gas, solid waste conversion, landfill gas, ocean waves, ocean thermal, or tidal currents to produce energy.
According to the Institute for Energy Research, about 9.9% of all energy consumed in the United States in 2015 was from renewable sources. Utility grade renewable facilities are created with the sole purpose of generating energy to add to a broader electrical grid. Distributed energy systems are associated with a building or structure, such as solar panels on a roof or wind turbine in a yard. They supply energy on-site and, may be connected to the electrical grid through net metering to sell excess energy or supplement energy needs.
The STAR Outcome relating to renewable energy requires communities submit the total generating capacity (facility nameplate) of facilities generating electricity and those from renewable sources for their jurisdiction. There could be complicating factors to evaluating this data, such as an electric utility’s area may span outside the jurisdiction or more than one utility provides service to local customers. For communities living in a state with an adopted Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), documentation of utilities compliance may be substituted. The STAR certified community with the highest percentage of qualifying renewable energy is Burlington, Vermont with 45%. Communities in Iowa all have very high percentages due to the high investment in wind energy in that state. Similarly, California communities have benefitted from investments in solar and the state’s RPS.
- Outcome 2: Electrical Energy Supply. Option A: Demonstrate that the community’s overall electric utility generating capacity includes a portion from renewable energy sources –OR– Option B: Demonstrate that the community’s electric utility is in compliance with RPS requirements and document the portion from renewable energy sources
- Action 1: Adopt a communitywide plan that includes a comprehensive programmatic and policy approach to shift the community towards alternative fuels and renewable energy sources
- Action 2: Utilize community choice aggregation, community shared solar, or community wind to procure renewable energy supplies
- Action 3: Remove regulatory restrictions on the development of residential and small business renewable energy installations
- Action 7: Use financial mechanisms to increase the mix of renewable energy sources supplied to residents
- Action 8: Provide a net-metering program that encourages the development of residential and small business renewable energy sources
- Action 10: Build the necessary distribution or storage infrastructure to support further investment in renewable energy sources
CE-4 Energy Efficiency
The United States accounts for 18% of the world’s total primary energy consumption with 4.46% of the world’s total human population. Per capita energy use in the U.S. is over 72% greater per person than in the rest of the world. There are several reasons for greater energy use in the U.S., including industrial development, quality of life expectations, reliable transmission of power, safety, and water quality. Energy efficiency efforts focus on behaviors and technology that reduce energy use. Whereas renewable energy adds to the supply, energy efficiency focuses on reducing the demand.
An effective way for local governments to reduce demand from newly constructed buildings is the adoption of an energy conservation code, such as the International Energy Conservation Code or the International Green Construction Code. Many communities adopt such codes on a 3-year cycle, thereby increasing the energy efficiency of new construction over time. Some communities, such as those in Massachusetts, may elect to adopt a stretch code that incentivizes efforts that go beyond base energy codes. Devens, MA, a census-designated area, went further by requiring residential construction meet a HERS rating of 60 or less.
A recent development intended to address energy efficiency is the adoption of disclosure ordinances for energy use in buildings of a certain size. Communities that have adopted building energy use disclosure ordinances include Austin, TX; Cambridge, MA; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; and Washington, DC.
- CE4 Outcome 1: Energy Use. Part 1: Demonstrate incremental progress towards achieving an 80% reduction by 2050 in energy used by community buildings or industrial processes –OR– Part 2: Demonstrate incremental progress towards achieving an 80% reduction by 2050 in energy use within specific residential, commercial, and industrial sectors
- CE4 Action 1: Adopt a strategic action plan to improve the energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings and industrial processes in the community
- CE4 Action 2: Adopt or upgrade building codes to ensure that new and renovated buildings are more energy efficient
- CE4 Action 3: Adopt an energy use information disclosure ordinance requiring energy users to disclose consumption levels
- CE4 Action 4: Create an education and outreach campaign to engage residents in energy efficiency efforts
- CE4 Action 5: Establish a committee to provide recommendations on policies and programs related to energy efficiency in buildings OR integrate this role into the work of existing committees
- CE4 Action 6: Partner with organizations to encourage the collection and reporting of energy use data from the commercial and industrial sectors
- CE4 Action 8: Create incentives to encourage the new construction of energy efficient buildings
- CE4 Action 9: Create incentives for businesses, lessors, homeowners, and renters to improve the energy efficiency of their existing buildings and homes
- CE4 Action 10: Create a local program to specifically help low-income households reduce energy-related burdens
- CE4 Action 11: Work with the local utilities to implement energy commissioning programs throughout the community