Solutions Forum

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.”

To Learn More:

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:

Dominion Energy: Remington-Gordonsville

Microsoft: Adressing our carbon footprint

Virginia: Renewable Energy Programs

C2ES guide helps cities and businesses collaborate on climate resilience

Press Release
May 24, 2017
Contact Laura Rehrmann, rehrmannl@c2es.org, 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

Download (PDF)

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
0

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.
 
 

Video

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

 
0

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 press@c2es.org.

 

 


Dominion, Microsoft team up to build solar project

May 2017

How Minneapolis is working with utilities to reduce emissions

May 2017

 

Year Ahead: We must strengthen climate action wherever possible

When I wrote a blog a year ago taking stock of the strengthening climate change effort, I reflected on a year of unprecedented progress, capped by the Paris Agreement, and outlined ways we could build on those successes.

At the beginning of the new U.S. administration, the outlook is unfortunately far different.  Now, our challenge is to preserve as much of this progress as we can, and to devise new strategies to continue strengthening climate action wherever possible.

Despite coming setbacks, it’s worth reminding ourselves that we have a solid base to work from. Thanks in part to strong policies, but also to growing market forces, the U.S. is on the path to a clean-energy transition, and the continued momentum is strong.

A few examples, just since the election:

·      Some of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg, launched a billion-dollar fund to invest in cutting-edge clean energy technologies.

The new policy landscape won’t be clear for some time and is likely to evolve. But as we monitor the early signs, and take soundings with policymakers and stakeholders around the country and around the world, we are coming to a clearer view of immediate imperatives, and of opportunities that may lie ahead.

One imperative is ensuring that the United States remains a reliable partner in the global climate effort – by staying in the Paris Agreement, and by working constructively with other countries to establish sound rules for its implementation. 

We were encouraged to hear Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson note the importance of the United States staying at the table. Indeed, the Paris Agreement reflects long-standing bipartisan principles. It fully preserves national sovereignty while providing a means of holding other countries accountable. U.S. businesses benefit from full access to the clean energy markets the agreement helps drive.

We were encouraged also to hear EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt express respect for the “endangerment finding” underpinning the regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. What is critical is how EPA chooses to fulfill the inherent legal obligation to regulate emissions, starting with the power sector.

While the Clean Power Plan appears unlikely to survive, decarbonization of the power sector is already underway. Thanks to improved energy efficiency and a more diverse energy mix, emissions dropped more than 20 percent over the last decade. Last year was the third in a row that renewables accounted for more than half of new U.S. power capacity.

Continued tax credits enjoying strong bipartisan support will help sustain that growth.  State-level conversations on lower carbon energy policies are continuing as states, cities and utilities find economic opportunity in modernizing the power sector. But the imperative remains: We need an overarching federal framework to deliver sustained, cost-effective emission reductions. We urge the new administration and Congress to get on with the job.

In the near term, we see opportunities for bipartisan steps that benefit both the climate and the economy and strengthen the foundation for a longer-term clean energy transition. These include:

Incentivizing carbon capture, use and storage.

Carbon capture technologies like those deployed this month in Texas are essential to meeting the climate challenge. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was among the bipartisan sponsors of a bill last year to help advance these technologies by supporting the use of captured CO2 in enhanced oil recovery, as recommended by a coalition of industry, labor, and environmental groups we help lead. We expect similar legislation in this Congress.

Advancing nuclear energy.

Bipartisan bills have already been introduced in the House and Senate to spur advanced nuclear technologies. Nuclear is our largest source of zero-carbon energy and the only one that provides continuous baseload power. It will have to play a significant role in any realistic long-term climate strategy.

Modernizing our infrastructure.

A viable infrastructure package could open significant opportunities to address climate change while creating jobs and growth. Examples include:

  • A modernized electric grid that can better distribute renewable power and is more climate-resilient.
  • Expanded charging and refueling networks for electric, natural gas and hydrogen vehicles.
  • Roads and bridges that can better withstand more frequent extreme weather.

One reason we’re confident of continued momentum is that the vast majority of the American people support it. In a Yale survey conducted after the election, nearly 70 percent favored staying in the Paris Agreement. And 70 percent – including a majority of Republicans – supported strict carbon limits on existing coal plants.

Business leaders, too, recognize the growing risks of climate impacts, and the opportunities to create new products, services and jobs.

And a growing number of cities are finding they can save money and create jobs by encouraging energy efficiency and clean energy and transportation.

At C2ES, while we are bracing for setbacks, and are prepared to defend against reversing course, we also will continue working as hard as ever to bring diverse interests together to make progress wherever we can. We face significant new challenges. But from the local to the global level, we’ve got strong momentum. And we can’t turn back.

 

C2ES again ranks among top environmental think tanks

Press Release
January 26, 2017
Contact Laura Rehrmann, rehrmannl@c2es.org

C2ES again ranks among top environmental think tanks

WASHINGTON -- The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is honored to be recognized once again as one of the world’s leading environmental think tanks.

C2ES ranked fourth among environment policy think tanks in the University of Pennsylvania’s 2016 Global Go To Think Tank Index, based on a worldwide survey of more than 2,500 scholars, academics, public and private donors, policymakers, and journalists.

C2ES was also recently named the top U.S. energy and environment think tank by Prospect magazine for helping lay the groundwork for the Paris Agreement.

“C2ES’s consistently high ranking is a tribute to our unique ability to bring together diverse stakeholders to achieve practical, commonsense solutions,” said C2ES President Bob Perciasepe. “We work with companies, cities, states, and national governments to develop and implement economically sound, innovative policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote clean energy, and strengthen resilience to climate impacts.”

“I congratulate and thank our outstanding staffers, supporters, partners, and board members, including Board Chairman Ted Roosevelt IV, who have helped C2ES achieve and maintain our success,” Perciasepe said.

This is the 10th year for the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program to rank the world’s 6,846 leading think tanks. According to the report, the top environmental think tanks “excel in research, analysis and public engagement on a wide range of policy issues with the aim of advancing debate, facilitating cooperation between relevant actors, maintaining public support and funding, and improving the overall quality of life.”

--

About C2ES: The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to forge practical solutions to climate change. Our mission is to advance strong policy and action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote clean energy, and strengthen resilience to climate impacts. Learn more at www.c2es.org.

Volkswagen Settlement Funding: What Cities Should Know

Volkswagen Settlement Funding: What Cities Should Know

December 2016

Download the fact sheet (PDF)

In October 2016, the U.S. government granted final approval of a $14.7 billion settlement against Volkswagen (VW) for equipping more than 500,000 of its diesel vehicles to cheat U.S. vehicle emissions tests in violation of the Clean Air Act. Volkswagen will spend $10 billion on vehicle buybacks and $4.7 billion to mitigate the pollution from these cars and invest in green vehicle technology. This latter amount will be split between two investment programs that states, cities, and tribes can use to expand alternative vehicle projects and access to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). Cities can play a key role, starting now, by identifying local emissions-cutting and zero-emission vehicle deployment projects that could benefit from increased investment and proposing ideas to states and Volkswagen about ways these funds can best be leveraged.

Since October 25, 2016, when the $14.7 billion settlement for claims related to emissions testing “defeat devices” installed in 2.0 liter diesel-powered vehicles was finalized, Volkswagen (VW) has resolved additional legal challenges with the U.S. Department of Justice. On December 20, 2016, a settlement for claims related to emissions testing “defeat devices” installed in 3.0 liter diesel-powered vehicles was announced, setting aside $1 billion for vehicle buy-backs and fixes and $250 million dedicated toward nitrogen oxide mitigation and zero emission vehicle investments. On January 11, 2017, VW agreed to plead guilty to criminal felony counts and a pay $2.8 billion criminal penalty.  VW also agreed to settle civil environmental, customs, and financial claims by paying $1.5 billion to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Customs & Border Patrol.

0

Bob Perciasepe on Google's milestone of 100 percent renewable energy

Statement of Bob Perciasepe
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

December 6, 2016

On Google's announcement that it will power its operations with 100 percent renewable energy:

We congratulate Google on achieving its goal of powering its global operations with 100 percent renewable energy.

Google’s achievement is further evidence of the continuing momentum of America’s clean-energy transition. Companies like Google are investing billions of dollars in clean energy and efficiency because it makes sound business sense. Hundreds of companies have not only made commitments like these, but reaffirmed their support for the Paris Agreement and U.S. policies that address climate change.

Businesses like Google are taking climate action because they understand the costs of inaction and see the economic benefits of a clean-energy economy.  Google’s commitment to 100 percent renewable shows that leading companies are committed to making long-term investments that are good for the environment, their consumers and their bottom lines.

Syndicate content