The Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE) was launched in 2007, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from county government operations to 10% below 2000 levels by 2012, including through reducing energy use by 2% per year from 2007 to 2012 with energy efficiency retrofits. The effort focuses primarily on county operations, including purchasing clean energy and increasing the efficiency of buildings, vehicles, and other infrastructure, such as traffic signals and street lights. The county is also preparing a Community Energy Plan, which doubles as a climate action plan by using greenhouse gas emissions as a proxy for overall energy productivity. The Arlington Green Games, a program launched in October 2010 within AIRE, provides assistance and recognition to businesses pursuing energy and water use reductions.
The AIRE initiative was the signature effort of Paul Ferguson, Chairman of the Arlington County Board. Mr. Ferguson engaged a group of employees from a range of county departments (including Department of Environmental Services; Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources; Community Planning, Housing & Development; Economic Development; Human Services; and Libraries, as well as the Communications and Public Affairs staff in the County Manager’s Office) to develop a plan. The team identified meaningful, realistic goals for which activities could be set in motion in the short term with limited financial resources.
The Department of Environmental Services (DES) in the county government manages AIRE and the Green Games. The efforts are now funded by a dedicated residential utility tax proposed by County Manager Ron Carlee in the FY2008 budget and approved by a vote of 5-0 in May 2007 as Chapter 63 of the County Code. The local taxing authority is allowed under Virginia Code § 58.1-3814. Capped at $72 per household per year and designed to avoid adversely harming low-income households, the tax generates approximately $1.5 million per year for the AIRE program. These funds support retrofits in public buildings and pay for eight full-time staff that lead sustainability efforts for the government and community, as well as program costs associated with the effort.
When AIRE was launched there were no active state or utility energy efficiency programs in Virginia. Arlingtonlooked elsewhere for best practices to draw from. Additionally, as local governments in Virginia have limited home rule authority, Arlington was forced to be creative in implementing its initiatives, with a focus on integrating energy considerations into existing local authorities and relying heavily on public participation to foster a sense of ownership in policy directions.
In the years since it began, AIRE has met many of its original goals and enabled the county to leverage its early activity with new opportunities, such as the federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program. Goals met and other milestones achieved include:
AIRE also seeks to support private-sector efforts to reduce emissions by acknowledging local institutions and businesses that achieve milestone accomplishments, such as ENERGY
The Arlington Green Games were launched in October 2010. In the first performance year, approximately 100 businesses are participating. Participating property managers and office tenants commit to a year-long program in which they will receive ongoing training, support, and resources as they:
At the end of one year, those companies that have made the greatest strides in environmental performance will be recognized by the Arlington County Board Chairman and in local media for their accomplishments.
Ongoing engagement is a key focus of the Green Games. The county is hosting monthly events for facility managers and tenants such as Mingling Mondays (networking breakfasts), Time Out Tuesdays (brown bag lunches with guest speakers), and Webinar Wednesdays (county provided webinars on topics covering green power, energy efficiency, water efficiency, low-cost and no-cost actions, and utility incentives).
The county has found some energy-saving opportunities that also save large amounts of money. For example, a $500 fix in one warehouse produced $10,000 in annual natural gas savings. Also, energy conservation measures such as turning off lights, turning off engines, and lowering thermostat settings cost nothing and save energy and money immediately. However, in most cases, the payback takes several years. The recently-completed energy performance contract for the JusticeCenterhas a 14-year payback, assuming energy prices remain constant. Avoided cost savings will increase with expected increases in energy prices. On average, the county’s investments in public lighting, buildings, and vehicles have been paid back in 5 years, with net savings each year thereafter.
The AIRE initiative has been broadly successful in terms of visibility and program implementation. But growth in county government services has hampered achievement of the 10% (absolute) reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from operations. When the AIRE program was launched in 2007, there was confidence among staff that the 10% emissions goal could be met relatively easily, since between 2000 and 2005 the County government had reduced greenhouse gas emissions about 3.3% (2,440 mt eCO2) from the 2000 baseline level. Much of this reduction was achieved through renewable energy credit purchases, but several other actions also contributed including increasing energy efficiency in buildings and traffic signals. However, while the energy intensity of county buildings has declined about 10% since 2005, the government increased the size of its building inventory through new construction by about 15% over the same period. An expansion of its wastewater treatment plant and the addition of thousands of streetlights and traffic signals since 2000 have further challenged energy use goals.
As of early 2011, county staff remain confident they will achieve the 10% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2012, but admit this is likely to rely more heavily on green power purchases than absolute reductions in energy consumption. The U.S. EPA Green Power Partnership, of which the county is a member, continues to regard renewable energy credits as legitimate credits for GHG reduction.
AIRE staff report that engaging and collaborating with as many stakeholders as possible and keeping them involved has played a large role in their success. Engaging other agencies leads to idea generation and cooperation. Engaging the community leads to enthusiasm and participation. Engagement tends to lead to things cascading in a positive manner.
They also have two big lessons related to what motivates interest and participation:
Overall growth in the community and of ArlingtonCounty’s government operations has seemed to diminish the contributions of successes in individual buildings. Improving building energy intensity (Btu/sf) yet steadily adding more square footage has lead some to wonder if the county is merely treading water, holding steady, and not actually improving. Despite this perception, the accumulation of many small successes has begun to take shape as a large overall success, not least because the avoided costs from energy efficiency remain very real to the county and its citizens.
The flip side of being perceived as a success is that it has forced the AIRE team to keep up with rising expectations. Stakeholders have become interested in adding additional tasks to what is established as a good program. This needs to be managed carefully to check on and maintain core program priorities.