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Preparing for more summer heat waves

Heat Wave PhotoClimate change is causing longer and hotter heat waves that take a toll on public health and on a community’s economy, prompting some local governments to take action.

Heat can be deadly. From 2006-2010, exposure to extreme heat resulted in 3,332 U.S. deaths. The elderly and the poor are among the most vulnerable due to pre-existing health issues and limited access to air conditioning. But young outdoor enthusiasts are also at risk. Five hikers died during a heat wave this summer in Arizona, where it got as hot as 120 degrees F.

Heat waves are not only dangerous, they’re also expensive. Extreme heat can damage crops and livestock, reduce worker productivity, drive up energy costs, and increase demand for water resources. A 2011 heat wave and associated drought in the Southwest and Southern Plains cost $12.7 billion.

A hotter, drier Southwest

While it’s hard to determine how climate change influences individual extreme weather events, we do know climate change exacerbates both their frequency and intensity.

In the Southwest, residents are expected to see an additional 13 to 28 extremely hot days (temperatures of 95F or hotter) by mid-century, and 33 to 70 additional days by the end of the century. Higher temperatures will also exacerbate droughts and fire cycles.

How to prepare

The Southwest region has already taken steps to prepare for the impacts of more extreme heat. This is especially critical for urban areas, where stretches of heat-absorbing concrete and asphalt create a heat island effect, increasing temperatures in some cities by up to 15 degrees above surrounding areas

In Southern California, the city government in Chula Vista is working to implement 11 strategies to help adapt to the impacts of climate change. They include using reflective or “cool” paving and roofing to reduce the urban heat island effect, and amending building codes to incentivize water reuse and lower demand for imported water.

In Arizona, the city of Phoenix’s Water Resource Plan includes short- and long-term strategies to deal with water shortage scenarios, including monitoring supplies and managing demand, developing increased well capacities for water storage, and coordinating with neighboring counties to secure additional water resources.

A council of local governments in Central New Mexico is working to determine the impacts of heat waves on infrastructure, including the role of extreme heat in degrading asphalt and pavement, and what types of pavement materials are most resilient to extreme heat.

Early efforts to improve climate resilience can help a community prepare for costly extreme weather events and more quickly bounce back from them. Local governments like the cities of Phoenix and Chula Vista and those in New Mexico are demonstrating strong leadership that can be an example for others. Coordinating with partners in state government and the business community, including through the C2ES Solutions Forum, can ensure local governments’ resilience plans provide maximum protection against the heat waves of the future.

Climate progress in 2014 sets the stage for 2015 action

Progress on a multifaceted global challenge like climate change doesn’t happen in one flash of bright light. This can lead to the impression that little is being accomplished, especially when stories highlight areas of disagreement.

Nothing can be further from the truth. In reality, progress is more like the brightening sky before dawn. We saw positive steps in 2014, and they’ll help lay the groundwork for significant climate action in 2015 in the United States and around the world.

In the U.S., we will see the EPA Clean Power Plan finalized and states taking up the challenge to develop innovative policies to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Allowing governors to do what they do best, innovating at the state level, will be a key achievement of 2015.

Internationally, more countries than ever before will be putting forward new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of talks in December in Paris to hammer out a climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

In the New Year, we will be building on solid progress made in 2014 by governments, businesses, and individuals. Here are 10 examples:

Building Sector



On-bill programs allow building owners and occupants to pay for clean energy investments over time through an additional charge on utility bills.

On-bill programs have mostly focused on energy efficiency measures, though renewable energy and water efficiency projects may be eligible as well.  Such projects often come with a high upfront cost that many people, businesses, and institutions cannot easily afford. On-bill programs can mitigate this problem because an administering utility or a third party covers the upfront cost of the clean energy installations. A customer’s history of utility bill payment can help to establish credit, and the customer may see little or no net increase in the monthly bill due to expected reductions in energy consumption. Generally, non-repayment will lead to a shutoff in utility service, which deters defaults and can make the loan provider more confident in repayment.

There are two general types of on-bill programs:

  • On-bill financing (OBF) – a utility incurs the cost of clean energy upgrades and is repaid by the customer.
  • On-bill repayment (OBR) – a third party (not the utility) provides the capital for a clean energy upgrade and is repaid by the customer through a utility bill.

On-bill programs vary by state and by provider, and each program has its own terms and process. Programs may be available to residential, commercial, industrial, and/or institutional customers depending on the state and utility policies. In those states with legislation that requires utilities to offer OBF, generally it is only obligatory for investor-owned utilities (IOUs). Administration of on-bill programs also varies; programs may be administered by the utility itself, a nonprofit organization, or a government entity. Some programs feature a discounted or zero interest rate. Initial investment funds for on-bill programs can come a variety of sources from utility ratepayers, government grants, or other funding sources. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provided a significant amount of funding for OBF.

Most participants in on-bill programs begin the program with an audit of the building to determine if energy efficient upgrades would be cost-effective. Some programs require all upgrades to be “bill-neutral.” Bill-neutrality occurs when the savings accrued by the decreased energy use will be equal to or greater than the monthly repayment amount.

Certain on-bill programs may also have the characteristic of being “tied to the meter,” meaning that responsibility of repayment lies with the current resident of the building, rather than forever with the resident who instigated the financing. This allows for flexibility for residents who wish to move or sell their home.

The states are organized into the following policy categories:

1.    State-Required On-Bill Financing or State-Launched On-Bill Program: These states have passed laws or public utilities commission orders that require utilities statewide (usually only large or investor-owned utilities) to provide an OBF program or directed a state agency to set up an on-bill program. Program specifications, such as loan terms, program size, and customer eligibility vary from state to state. 

2.    State-Supported On-Bill Programs: These states have passed laws or public utilities commission orders that authorize and/or support the implementation of OBF or OBR state-wide, but do not require any utilities to offer on-bill programs. These include policies that remove legal barriers or establish funds to offering on-bill programs.

3.    Preliminary On-Bill Program Policy: These states’ public utilities commissions have ordered the establishment of pilot on-bill programs or commissioned research or working groups to analyze the feasibility of on-bill programs.

4.    On-Bill Financing Offered by Individual Utilities: Utilities in some states have voluntarily created OBF programs without direction from local or state government. In some states, utilities can earn money from reducing overall demand.  Energy efficiency can also be a way to reduce peak loads and thus generation costs.

To learn more about On-Bill Financing programs, please see the C2ES On-Bill Financing Brief.

Additional information:

U.S. Department of Energy: On Bill Financing and Repayment Programs

ACEEE: On-Bill Financing for Energy Efficiency Improvements

NRDC: On-Bill Financing Overview and Key Considerations for Program Design

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