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Creating Effective Energy Efficiency& Conservation Strategies in Your Community: Getting Started (part 1 of 2)

KathleenOBrien-web Katie spataro Creating Effective Energy Efficiency& Conservation Strategies in Your Community: Getting Started

EECS & Strategic Energy Plans: What are they?

Many government municipalities around the country have taken advantage of Energy Efficiency and Conservation (EEC) Strategy Block Grant money authorized by the National Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to fund strategies that reduce energy use and fossil fuel emissions, and improve energy efficiency in transportation, building, and other sectors as appropriate. For many cities, counties, and states, the funding represents an opportunity to act on commitments to respond to climate change, to identify and capture operational savings now and in the future as a measure of fiscal prudence, and to assist citizens in doing the same.

The Block Grant covers developing and implementing an EEC Strategy, which may include everything from conducting audits, developing financial incentive programs, analyzing and updating codes and enforcement, and implementing public education, among others.  Although the EEC Strategies we’ve seen thus far range in scope and detail, they generally include some form of action or implementation plan. Often this involves project descriptions with budgets and projected results associated with those budgets (such as energy savings, job creation, emissions reductions). The latter justification is used to prioritize and disburse remaining Block Grant monies.

Budgets for implementation can run to the millions. Las Vegas, Nevada’s Implementation PlanE-Burg_website  announced in July of 2009 represented a proposed investment of nearly $28 million, including the planning element, and including items such as solar covered parking structures, a solar powered waste water treatment facility, facility and exterior lighting retrofits, financing and incentive programs, upgrading its green building program, and outreach. Charlotte, South Carolina has a more modest budget, roughly $6.5 million. Again, this investment is proposed for a number of different activities, primarily retrofits improving energy efficiency of existing facilities and incorporating renewable technologies. Like several of the EEC Strategies, the Charlotte Strategy proposes that some of this funding be used to staff a position to coordinate implementation.

A couple of good examples of EEC Strategy documents we’ve seen are those developed by Loudon County, Virginia and Topeka, Kansas.

In addition to EEC Strategies, we are also seeing a growing number of “Energy Plans” at the city, county, and state level. Not surprisingly, these are often allied with a concurrent commitment to addressing Climate Change. The City of San Diego’s “Energy Strategy for a Sustainable Future” is a good example of a stand-alone document. Burlington, Vermont’s Energy Plan is a section of the City’s 2006 Municipal Development Plan. King County, Washington, has an Energy Plan that it continues to update as it internalizes ongoing analyses of its operations and transportation energy efficiency measures and impacts.

Report #1 cover An outline for an ideal strategic process for developing a community energy plan is provided by the Department of Energy (DOE) in its publication “Community Greening: How to Develop a Strategic Energy Plan.” Like most community strategic planning, the DOE outline proposes a stakeholder process, visioning and goal setting exercises, benchmarking existing conditions, identifying programs to fund as well as ways to fund them, prioritizing those programs, and memorializing all of this in a written document, which is then subject to review and ratification.

What’s Right for Your Community?

Embarking on an EEC Strategy will entail a unique process guided by the champions and leaders within your community, and influenced by resources available for the process. Although the Department of Energy process outline (discussed above) should work for most communities, the devil is in the details. It is our experience in community planning that a one-size-fits-all approach will not succeed. Each plan should be tailored to reflect the goals and interest of the stakeholders and be directly related to city and utility planning efforts. Begin by asking three high-level questions: 

  • What planning efforts are already in place that would support an EEC Strategy such as comprehensive and code update cycles, greenhouse gas emissions planning, or community master planning?
  • Where is the leadership and strongest support for efficiency and conservation within the community: the building and design sector, policy makers, public? 
  • What federal, state or county technical assistance and funding is available to assist with strategic energy planning in your community?

Where to next?

Once you've pondered these questions, we anticipate a hunger for more information. Fortunately, resources abound for local governments seeking assistance with strategic energy planning, removing regulatory obstacles, and developing policies and standards in support of energy efficiency and renewables. A few of our favorites follow. In the meantime, good luck! Whether your motivation is operational savings, civic duty, or environmental protection — or all of the above — an EEC Strategy is a worthwhile venture. While it is most certainly an opportunity to save energy, it is also an excellent an non-partisan way to build community — in itself a transformative gesture.


US Dept. of Energy
Community Greening: How to Develop a Strategic Energy Plan

Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments

Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute
Sustainable Community Development Code and Reform Initiative:

Essential Smart Growth Fixes for Urban and Suburban Zoning Codes:

Cascadia Green Building Council
Codes and Regulatory Research Publications

Kathleen O'Brien is President of O'Brien & Company, a nationally respected green building consultancy founded in 1991. She is currently Principal-in-Charge for the firms planning, policy and programmatic work (including the Ellensburg project), and has been instrumental in the development of multiple sustainability strategies for government, non-profit, and private sector organizations. She served as an officer on the Cascadia Board of Directors in its early years and has been recognized by the organization as a Cascadia Fellow, a lifetime honorific. She is Editor of Building Capacity Blog.

Katie Spataro is Cascadia’s Research Director for Codes and Standards. Katie’s efforts to assist local governments with identifying obstacles and seeking pathways to support more sustainable development practices has assisted in the creation of policies, programs and code-related curriculum around the region. Katie heads up Cascadia’s Research Department which provides groundbreaking research and technical consulting services to help to further the adoption and understanding of the Living Building Challenge and other high performance policies, programs and standards.

Editors Note: More in depth treatment of the topic is in the fall issue of Cascadia Green Building Councils publication, Trim Tab here:  

Did you enjoy this article?  You might also like these Building Capacity Blog articles: 
Creating Effective Energy Efficiency & Conservation Strategies Part 1
Tips for Optimizing Forced-Air Heating and Cooling Systems Part 1
Interview with SBCA and Built Green Santa Barbara’s Karin Perissinotto
Washington Business Alliance: A Sustainable Approach
Green Building Public Education: Writing to Make a Difference
How Can We Accelerate the Green Building Movement?

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