Solutions Forum

Turning disaster into opportunity for flood resilience

Hoboken – a densely populated city on one square mile of mostly reclaimed marshland along the Hudson River in New Jersey – was unprepared for a 14-foot surge of water from Hurricane Sandy.

The surge flooded streets and knocked out power to many residents for weeks. The city’s three power substations required extensive repairs, its hospital was evacuated, and untreated sewage flowed into the river through its combined water and sewer system. Total storm damage was estimated at $100 million.

“Hoboken pretty much filled up like a bathtub,” said City Manager Stephen Marks. “It was pretty hellish.”

But local officials have turned disaster into opportunity, taking advantage of federal, state, and nonprofit funding; innovative engineering and financing; and surging political will to creatively address the city’s chronic flooding problems plus other community concerns, like the need for parking and recreational space.

Hoboken received a $230 million grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement its 2014 comprehensive urban water strategy: “Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge.” The city plans to leverage the funds to support green and “grey” coastal defense projects, landscaping to slow down water run-off, a green circuit to trap water, and pumps to support drainage.

To make the plans a reality, the city enlisted the help of re:focus partners, a design and finance firm focused on bridging the gap between the public and private sectors in sparking sustainable investment in cities.

“There are flat file drawings and master plans that never see the light of day because there is no path to financing – public or private,” said re:focus CEO Shalini Vajjhala. “Our premise is that you need to incorporate engineering and financing into pre-development to avoid that fate.”

With a $3 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, re:focus partners provided Hoboken and seven other cities selected through a national competition the opportunity to collaborate with them and their partners, including engineering work from Bechtel Corp., legal assistance from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and financing help from Wall Street Without Walls. The Hoboken effort resulted in a 2015 plan to improve the city’s resilience to flooding by redeveloping a six-acre former BASF Corp. manufacturing site into a dual use underground parking and storm water retention facility topped with green space modeled on a similar project in Rotterdam.

After lengthy negotiations, Hoboken purchased the BASF site in December 2016 for $30 million with a loan from the New Jersey Environmental Trust Fund. As a clean water project, three-quarters of the loan is interest-free and the remainder is at market rates. The financing also includes 19 percent principal forgiveness for green infrastructure, according to Marks.

The city is in the process of selecting a final design team for the Northwest Park project, which would be the largest in Hoboken. The city is opting for an above-ground parking garage and a more conventional underground water storage facility beneath green space. Parking fees will help pay back bonds for the project. The city also has been working with the North Hudson Sewer Authority on separating storm water runoff from sewage that needs treatment.

“Full sewer separation is a far better outcome than we expected, so we are thrilled that our work kick started an even more ambitious set of resilience activities for the city,” Vajjhala said.

“Our work with re:focus was catalytic,” Marks said. “They really helped the city imagine what could be done with the urban challenges we face.”

re:focus partners also helped Hoboken move forward with a smaller, one-acre park in the southwestern corner of the city that will be the first resilience park with integrated green infrastructure in New Jersey. The once asphalt-covered site is being replaced with rain gardens, shade tree pits, porous pavers, a cistern for rainwater harvesting, and an underground retention system to reduce storm water run-off and localized flooding.

By thinking holistically about city challenges – including climate change – before a disaster strikes, cities can prepare themselves to turn disaster into resilience opportunities.

Open-mindedness is key to successful projects, Vajjhala said. Marks said there also has to be the political will to seek tangible solutions to a multitude of problems. “You need elected officials who are focused on the problem and want to tear down the silos that keep people apart,” he said.

And it helps to have state and federal loan programs available to make financing less of a concern. “That really sweetened the pot for naysayers and skeptics,” Marks said. “It created a political will behind the solution.”

To Learn More:


Emissions Implications of Nuclear Retirements

Emissions Implications of Nuclear Retirements

July 2017

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Since late 2012, five power companies retired six nuclear reactors in the United States. Across the country, an additional seven reactors are scheduled to be closed by 2025, including two at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, New York. If this trend continues or accelerates, there could be serious climate implications. Nuclear power supplies 20 percent of total U.S. electricity production, but it supplies 57 percent of zero-carbon electricity. As all recent U.S. nuclear retirements have led to increased fossil fuel-fired generation, any additional loss of nuclear generating capacity could be expected to increase carbon dioxide emissions. Preserving the existing U.S. nuclear reactor fleet for as long as possible is a critical element in the transition to a low-carbon future.

Doug Vine

New York State Response to Economic Challenges of the Existing Nuclear Fleet

New York State Response to Economic Challenges of the Existing Nuclear Fleet

July 2017

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Since late 2012, five power companies retired six nuclear reactors in the United States. Across the country, an additional seven reactors are scheduled to be closed by 2025, including two at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, New York. If this trend continues or accelerates, there could be serious climate implications. Nuclear power supplies 20 percent of total U.S. electricity production, but it supplies 57 percent of zero-carbon electricity. As all recent U.S. nuclear retirements have led to increased fossil fuel-fired generation, any additional loss of nuclear generating capacity could be expected to increase carbon dioxide emissions. Preserving the existing U.S. nuclear reactor fleet for as long as possible is a critical element in the transition to a low-carbon future.

Doug Vine

Winnipeg partnership builds successful clean energy buses

In Winnipeg, Canada, a small fleet of all-electric buses is providing a glimpse of future public transit.

Since 2014, Winnipeg Transit has been using four purpose-built electric buses that automatically recharge on their route. With lower maintenance costs as well, the buses have shown the potential for zero-emission public transit in a city already powered by emissions-free hydroelectric energy.

What started as a four-year-demonstration has been so successful that a task force recommended looking for ways to expand electric bus use in Winnipeg. The buses are also spreading to other cities. Some are already operating in Chicago and Washington, D.C., and they are on the way to Albany, N.Y.; Boston; Oakland, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and Salt Lake City. Los Angeles is working on plans to electrify its entire bus fleet.

The project’s origins date back to 2011, when Winnipeg-based bus manufacturer New Flyer developed prototypes with the help of Red River College researchers, instructors, and students, said Jose “Jojo” Delos Reyes, a program manager at Red River. Manitoba’s Vehicle Technology Center, electric utility Manitoba Hydro, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries each kicked in about CAD $1 million (USD $790,000).

After more than a year shuttling Manitioba Hydro employees between office buildings, the bus, batteries, and charging system had passed the test of operating in a harsh Canadian winter, and were ready to move into full production and demonstration. Sustainable Development Technology Canada, a foundation established by the Canadian government to fund clean-energy technology, gave CAD $3.4 million (about USD $2.65 million) to build the buses and a charging station for the real world.

The four New Flyer Xcelsior model battery-electric transit buses now traverse a two-hour, 40-kilometer (25-mile) route through the city, and to and from the Winnipeg Richardson International Airport. During a 10-minute layover at the airport, the bus automatically connects to an overhead charging station using a pantograph, similar to the wire connections on trams and electric trains. The station delivers enough power to the lithium-ion batteries for another two-hour run.

“Basically, it lets the bus run continuously, 24/7,” said David Warren, the director of sustainable transportation at New Flyer. “For every hour the bus is in service, it takes [about] six minutes to charge it.”

The batteries have a total capacity of 200 kilowatt-hours, allowing a bus to operate up to five hours between full charges. Each bus has a range of about 145 kilometers, or a little more than 90 miles, Warren said, with a 200-mile range battery in the works.

New Flyer maintains the buses and chargers, which it trained Winnipeg Transit to operate. With no transmission, emissions system, or oil or filters to change, maintenance costs are far less. Warren estimates maintaining an Xcelsior battery-electric bus costs about CAD $158,000 (about USD $124,000) less than maintaining a diesel or CNG bus over its lifetime, a savings of about 30 Canadian cents per mile (about 24 U.S. cents).

The electric buses save up to 160 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per bus, per year compared to conventional diesel buses, Warren said. 

The buses returned electric transit to Winnipeg for the first time since trolleys, powered by overhead wires, were retired in 1965.

“Part of our vision for Winnipeg’s future includes supporting technology and innovation,” Mayor Brian Bowman said in a statement, “especially when it is homegrown and the end-users who benefit from it are Winnipeggers.”

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Energy efficiency: How Minneapolis is teaming up with utilities to reduce emissions

When the city of Minneapolis set out to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, it soon became clear the goal couldn’t be met without substantial help from the area’s two investor-owned energy companies.

Xcel and CenterPoint Energy provide their customers the electricity and natural gas that powers, heats, and cools the city’s commercial and residential buildings, which accounts for two-thirds of city emissions. Energy efficiency had to be part of the equation.

Utilities are largely regulated at the state level in Minnesota but cities do negotiate franchise agreements that allow utilities use of public property for transmission lines and pipelines. Under new 10-year franchise agreements with the city, the utilities agreed to establish a partnership to help the city reach its goal.

Now in its third year, the Clean Energy Partnership has drawn national attention. It won a Climate Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Department of Energy recognized its software program that helps building owners understand their energy use. Several cities – including Salt Lake City; Santa Fe, N.M.; and Madison, Wis. – have looked to Minneapolis as a model for their own emissions-cutting efforts.

The partnership has set a series of ambitious goals, including reaching 75 percent of households with energy efficiency retrofit services and cutting energy use 17 percent by 2025, and achieving a carbon-free electricity supply by 2040. Steps the partnership has taken include encouraging commercial property owners, landlords, and individual homeowners to conserve energy – as well as continuing efforts to cut the electric and gas usage of city-owned buildings, streetlights, and vehicles.

“The first two years really were a learning experience,” said Luke Hollenkamp, a sustainability program coordinator for Minneapolis. “One of the biggest accomplishments was just getting it up and running.”

Initial work included building databases of energy usage and energy conservation efforts throughout the city and creating a community Energy Vision Advisory Committee (EVAC) – two steps that both proved crucial.

Measure first

The databases, which are managed by the city, were a key early accomplishment, giving the partnership a way to measure progress as well as track participation in its energy conservation programs down to the neighborhood.

“We had known that parts of the city weren’t participating as much in energy efficiency programs as others, but we didn’t know to what scale,” Hollenkamp said. “This gave us a way to track our progress at a more granular level.”

The city in 2013 adopted a benchmarking ordinance requiring all private commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to report their natural gas, electricity, and water usage. Meter readings are automatically uploaded by the utilities and compiled into a publicly available online tool that uses EPA’s Energy Star measures to rate buildings. Overall, the Minneapolis buildings score 74 out of 100, well above the median national score of 50.

Low-performing buildings identified by the benchmarking can be targeted for assistance and all benchmarked properties are encouraged to conserve energy. The city has established a “Minneapolis Building Energy Challenge” to reduce energy consumption by 15 percent by 2020. Participants receive public recognition for their efforts and the city will help connect owners with the technical resources they need to achieve the goal. So far, 15 of 429 eligible buildings have signed up for the challenge.

Audrey Partridge, local energy policy manager at electric utility CenterPoint, said the partnership’s current two-year plan calls for more intensive outreach to tell property managers and owners about programs they may be eligible for to lower their energy usage -- and their bills.

Engage the community

The 15-member community advisory committee – which includes representatives from the community, environmental advocacy groups, major industrial energy consumers, and technical experts – has proved crucial to the program’s success.

“One of the great things that EVAC has done was provide a template for community engagement,” said Bridget Dockter, manager of policy and outreach for natural gas utility Xcel. “That ended up being the source for a pilot program we are actually engaged in now.”

Under the outreach pilot program, the partnership is enlisting neighborhood organizations to test the best ways to reach the two populations that have historically lagged in participating in energy-efficiency programs – lower-income neighborhoods and multi-family buildings.

More than half of Minneapolis residents are renters, making multi-family buildings a key area to target. But how do you persuade property owners to invest in energy efficiency when tenants typically pay the utility bills?

In October 2015, Xcel and CenterPoint began offering free energy audits through the partnership to owners of buildings with at least five units and set up financial incentives ranging from 15 to 25 percent of upgrade costs for efficiency improvements in market-rate buildings. Rebates are available through the utilities under a state requirement.

Dockter said it’s too soon to measure the results, since it can take months after an energy audit to secure the capital for efficiency improvements. But, she said, “we’ve had a handful of buildings actually make the formal investment.”

Setting goals

Early results include an increase in Home Energy Squad visits from 731 in 2014 to 1,198 in 2015. These home energy audits include installation of energy-saving devices such as LED lights, weather-stripping, programmable thermostats, low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators. For a limited time, the city offered no-interest financing to participants making insulation and air sealing upgrades.

In 2015, residential electric use decreased by 4 percent and natural gas use dropped 22 percent from the previous year. Reductions were in part due to energy efficiency improvements as well as a mild heating season, according to the partnership’s 2015 annual report.

Keys to Success

For municipalities looking to Minneapolis as a model for collaboration, Dockter says a key is having strong commitments from every partner to put in the time and resources needed for success.

“It’s important early on to recognize you aren’t going to find some bright shiny object that is the answer,” she said. “It’s a long, systemic answer that you need to build on to really change the direction and the results.”

Al Swintek, government relations officer at CenterPoint, agrees that the partners need to be committed and that the partnership be formal, with regular meetings, documented goals, and work plans so that it produces results. He recommends directly involving “those at the highest levels to help push this forward.”

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Solutions Story: Dominion, Microsoft team up with Virginia to build solar project

On 125 acres about an hour’s drive southwest of Washington, D.C., construction is in full swing on 260,000 photovoltaic panels.

In the short-term, the project will create more than 200 construction jobs. In the longer term, it will bring more than $70,000 a year in tax revenue to Fauquier County and provide 20-megawatts of solar power, which, at peak capacity, is enough to power several thousand homes.

The project was made possible by a public-private partnership involving the Commonwealth of Virginia, Dominion Energy, and Microsoft—one that could serve asd a model for similar projects.

Dominion’s goal is to install 500+ megawatts of renewable power by 2020.

Microsoft, which has data and technology centers in Virginia, has a goal to remain carbon neutral.

The Remington, Virginia, project is a win for all three. Dominion and MIcrosoft meet their goals with no extra cost to other customers, while the state and its taxpayers have locked-in energy costs.

“We saw this as an opportunity to develop solar for our customers and work toward our own goals for generating renewable energy,” said Dianne Corsello, director of business development for Dominion Generation.

Key to the agreement were renewable energy certificates (RECs). Because electricity from a wind or solar plant is fed into the grid and mixed with power from other sources, there’s no way for an end user to buy power coming from a particular source. A REC is an accounting mechanism to make sure that one (and only one) customer is credited with purchasing a given quantity of power from a particular renewable source.

Microsoft, which has been carbon neutral since 2012, agreed to enter into a long-term agreement to purchase all RECs the project will generate.

For Microsoft, the RECs are helping offset the carbon footprint of its data center in Boydton, Virginia, and contributing to the company’s goal of buying enough renewable energy to equal 100 percent of its energy consumption.

For Dominion, the RECs purchase agreement means  it  can sell the power from the Remington plant at a more competitive rate.

For the state, a 25-year power purchase agreement will allow it to purchase all the power generated from the solar project for no more than it would pay for fossil fuel-generated electricity. Over the lifetime of the deal, that could save taxpayers up to $1 million.

Dominion and Microsoft hope that this could be the start of a trend of creative collaboration on clean energy financing.

“I see opportunities for a growing number of companies that are looking to meet their environmental goals,” Corsello said. Dominion has invested more than $800 million in solar power in Virginia, with 398 megawatts of solar generation either completed or under development.

“We have a long way to go to develop renewable energy,” said Brian Janous, Microsoft’s director of energy strategy. “But we need more of the kinds of opportunities for partnership with utilities we’re seeing here to open up.”

To learn more:

C2ES guide helps cities and businesses collaborate on climate resilience

Press Release
May 24, 2017
Contact Laura Rehrmann,, 703-516-0621


C2ES guide helps cities and businesses collaborate on climate resilience

WASHINGTON – Cities and businesses both face the threat of damaged infrastructure and disrupted operations due to climate impacts. A new C2ES guide outlines ways cities can collaborate with the local business community to strengthen climate resilience.

To create the Guide to Public-Private Collaboration on City Climate Resilience Planning, C2ES brought together local government and business officials in Kansas City, Mo.; Miami Beach, Fla.; Phoenix; and Providence, R.I., to assess each city’s climate preparedness and prioritize resilience needs. Each city has a unique economic make-up and faces different climate threats, but common threads led to recommendations for any city leader to invite and promote business collaboration, including:

  • Build resilience planning on the foundation of existing public-private programs and partnerships across city departments.
  • Show businesses that climate resilience planning is a key priority, and set up a process for continual collaboration to demonstrate that business involvement is valued.
  • Work with partners, including in academia and state and federal government, to develop localized data on climate threats to emphasize the business case for resilience planning.
  • Tailor the approach depending on the industry and size of the business.
  • Explore innovative financing for resilience projects, including public-private partnerships and insurance incentives.

“Every city hit by a severe storm understands the need for resilience and fast disaster recovery,” said C2ES President Bob Perciasepe. “Businesses need climate-resilient public infrastructure to maintain business continuity. Cities need climate-resilient businesses to maintain the economic health of the community. It only makes sense for them to work together.”

Just as cities and businesses jointly suffer the negative impacts of climate change, they may jointly benefit from the economic development opportunities that come from improving resilience, according to the guide. Upgrading or relocating infrastructure, implementing energy efficiency projects, building microgrids, and restoring natural ecosystems can improve resilience and create jobs.

Cities and businesses bring complementary strengths to climate resilience planning. Businesses may have data analysis and emergency response resources that would be helpful to cities. Cities, meanwhile, often find it easier to plan for the longer term.

Expanding the stakeholders involved in resilience planning can also increase political support and the willingness to devote public resources to the topic.

The Guide to Public-Private Collaboration on City Climate Resilience Planning was created with support from Bank of America.

Guide to Public-Private Collaboration on City Climate Resilience Planning

Guide to Public-Private Collaboration on
City Climate Resilience Planning

May 2017

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Cities and businesses are separately preparing for climate change and building their resilience to impacts. But they have not had guidance on how to work together, until now. This report lays out the value in public-private collaboration on city climate resilience planning, and recommends to city resilience planners specific actions they can take to bring their business community into the climate resilience planning process.

Key Takeaways

  • Resilience planning is an extension of existing programs and partnerships. 
  • Businesses respond to city leadership.
  • Businesses respond to data.
  • 'Business' is not a monolith.
  • Innovative financing can help promote collaboration.
Ashley Lawson
Janet Peace
Katy Maher

Key Insights for Expanding Microgrid Development

Key Insights for Expanding Microgrid Development

April 2017

Dowload the fact sheet (PDF)

C2ES held a half-day Solutions Forum in March 2017 in Washington, D.C., focusing on the benefits of microgrids and examining what is standing in the way of accelerating their deployment. Two panels, comprising business and city leaders, shared their first-hand experience in the small, but rapidly developing microgrid industry. Discussion focused on what developers are learning from successful microgrid projects and overcoming obstacles to deployment. About 100 people, including policymakers, entrepreneurs, and academics, attended the forum at The George Washington University School of Law and 200 watched online. 

Key Takeaways

The nation’s first microgrid architect, Shalom Flank, Ph. D., of Urban Ingenuity, identified three economically viable categories of microgrid frameworks.

  1. The classic success model, considering primarily the urban situation, is the “combined heat and power (CHP) plus solar” microgrid. These work downtown, on campus, or at a large facility like a hospital. With improvements in modern electronics and controller technologies, these projects can earn even greater revenues (e.g. providing grid services).
  2. “Thermal only” microgrids pay for themselves. These involve creating a condenser water loop across multiple buildings with heat sources and sinks. They are highly efficient for serving heating and cooling loads. There is no resilience benefit in this instance, but emissions savings are excellent.
  3. “Solar saturation” microgrids are viable. The current grid can’t accommodate an entire neighborhood where all homes have solar without a microgrid. This kind of project provides emissions and resilience benefits.


Watch our March 8, 2017 discussion at Geoge Washington University.


Solutions Stories

When businesses, states, and cities work together to meet climate and energy challenges, everyone wins. These successes provide valuable lessons others can learn from. Through Solutions Stories, C2ES is showcasing successful collaborations expanding clean energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or strengthening climate resilience. We hope these stories inform and inspire other innovative partnerships. To suggest a Solutions Story, please contact us at




Turning disaster into opportunity for flood resilience


August 2017

Winnipeg partnership builds successful clean-energy buses


July 2017

Microgrids improve resilience, efficiency


July 2017

How Minneapolis is working with utilities to reduce emissions

May 2017

Dominion, Microsoft team up to build solar project


May 2017



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