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From the Ground Up: How Local Governments and Community Organizations Are Delivering Energy Efficiency in Innovative Ways


February 28, 2012 - 10:43am
By Eric Mackres, Manager, Local Policy and Community Strategies

and Erin Brandt, Metropolitan Area Planning Council

In the absence of leadership at the federal level to enact comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation, local municipalities and community organizations are adopting policies, strategies, and partnerships that promote energy efficiency, save money, and reduce pollution. This increased level of activity in promoting energy efficiency at the local level is the focus of a white paper released today by ACEEE and the MIT Energy Efficiency Strategy ProjectThe Role of Local Governments and Community Organizations as Energy Efficiency Implementation Partner: A Review of Trends and Case Studies.

The white paper presents eight case studies from communities across the country and showcases how local governments and civil society can support energy efficiency efforts through enabling policies and program partnerships.

  • Enabling policies are local regulatory requirements or incentives put in place by a municipality to improve market conditions for energy efficiency investments. Such policies can be implemented with or without coordination with utilities, and can include building energy codes, energy use disclosure requirements, innovative financing mechanisms, and non-financial incentives, such as expedited building permitting. Related case studies from Austin, Texas, Berkeley, California, New York City, and Washington, D.C. are included in the white paper.
  • Program partnerships are arrangements between one or more energy utilities and one or more local government and/or community organizations to implement an energy efficiency program. Partnerships usually identify specific contributions and roles for each of the parties involved that can improve a program’s delivery, participation, and energy savings. Through a partnership model, municipalities and community partners leverage existing relationships, networks, and expertise to promote energy efficiency, often while simultaneously addressing additional community priorities, such as economic development, job creation, and sustainability. Programs in Chicago, Marshfield and New Bedford, Massachusetts and Portland, Oregon are covered in the white paper.

Energy utilities, municipalities, and community organizations have unique and important attributes, such as expertise, human and financial resources, information, and relationships that when combined can lead to improved program and policy implementation and greater energy savings.

Drawing on these insights, our organizations and others around the country are seeking to encourage additional local energy innovation. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) launched its Local Energy Action Program (LEAP) in fall 2011. Through LEAP, MAPC is working with communities in the Boston region to plan for and launch innovative and financially sustainable projects that reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the municipal, residential, and commercial sectors. In each participating community, MAPC will work over a two-year period to build local capacity to support long-range energy goals and strategies by bringing together municipal leadership, utilities, community groups, local businesses, and residents to establish enabling policies and program partnerships that support local investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

ACEEE continues to expand its suite of technical assistance resources designed for local governments and other local stakeholders. These tools include the Local Energy Efficiency Policy Calculator, or LEEP-C (a quantitative analysis tool to help localities decide which energy efficiency policies make the most sense for them); a series of detailed case studies on local programs and policies from around the country; state and local toolkits; and new publications on topics relevant to local stakeholders being added frequently.

This white paper on local implementation is the first in a series of three local energy publications to be released by ACEEE over the coming months. The next report will review the recent successes and challenges of communities undertaking strategic energy planning. The third report will highlight the variety of sustainable funding options available to local governments to enable them to continue leadership in energy efficiency in the face of expiring federal stimulus dollars.