Communities Dive In: Local Planning for Energy Efficiency

Blog Post | March 26, 2012 - 3:45 pm
By Eric Mackres, Manager, Local Policy and Community Strategies

This post is the second of three on sustaining local energy efficiency efforts. The first post described trends in local implementation of energy efficiency. The next post will explore sustainable funding sources.

While some local governments are still just testing the waters of energy efficiency; many others have decided to dive in head first. The recent proliferation of local energy efficiency planning provides an opportunity to achieve considerable energy savings, save money, create jobs, and protect the environment.

A new ACEEE report  looks at the work of local governments who, like Arlington County, Virginia, have developed plans to capture these benefits for their communities

In January 2010, Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette announced that the county would expand its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by preparing a Community Energy Plan that would encompass all energy use within the county. A 30-person Community Energy and Sustainability Task Force was established to guide the effort. The resulting plan establishes actions that focus on furthering three aims: ensuring economic competitiveness; providing energy security and affordability; and protecting the environment. The energy plan doubles as a climate action plan by using greenhouse gas emissions as a proxy for overall energy productivity. The headline goal of the plan is to reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions by over 75% by 2050. The plan was accepted and its policy determinations adopted by the County Board in May 2011. County staff are now working to integrate the plan into the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

Our new report summarizes the choices local communities have made in their energy planning processes. We compare the planning activities documented in a sample of thirty finalized local energy plans from communities around the United States. We also identify gaps in current local energy planning practice and specific strategic opportunities for improved management.

Sustained and effective management of planning processes will be a key determinant of how well these initiatives achieve their energy savings goals. While these planning processes often lead to new energy efficiency initiatives, communities are experiencing a variety of challenges when undertaking energy planning. These challenges include difficulties in connecting their visions with the metrics used to track their goals; prioritizing implementation actions; finding sustainable funding to support planning and implementation; and, in some cases, difficulties in tracking progress toward goals and absence of plan evaluation and revision.

Read the full report for more information on the energy planning activities of these 30 communities and an analysis of opportunities for further improvement.