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Pledge Element 3 - Reduce Utility Bills for Municipal Facilities and Operations

Local Action Overview (Municipal Operations)

Schenectady City Hall
Schenectady City Hall - During a three-year
initial phase, a performance contract saved the
City of Schenectady more than $109,000 on
electric and gas bills - and avoided more than
1.1 million pounds of CO2-equivalent emissions.
The city expects to reduce its energy bills by
a total of $1.6 million over 15 years, and will use
the savings to pay for further energy-efficient

Today, New York's communities are trying hard to use less energy for their buildings, facilities and services - reducing both municipal energy bills and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This section of the Climate Smart Communities Guide for Local Action will help cities, towns, villages and counties to operate more efficiently and save taxpayer dollars.

Certain areas of local government operations (listed as On This Page links at right) offer good prospects for reducing energy use, costs and GHG emissions. This overview highlights savings from typical efficiencies, along with funding mechanisms to help make energy efficiency affordable in municipal buildings and water treatment facilities. A How-to page discusses techniques and methods, while case studies present actual community experiences. Climate Smart Solid Waste and Materials Management covers municipal solid waste collection and disposal.

To provide additional information and success stories, contact us at the email address or telephone number on the lower right.

Local Governments Can Set the Pace

Nationwide and in New York, more than one-third of all energy goes to space heating/cooling and equipment operation in buildings. Local governments have an outstanding opportunity for leadership in building sector energy efficiency, both because making public buildings efficient saves taxpayer dollars, and because local codes govern the efficiency of all buildings in a community.

Local governments' energy bills cover not only public building energy use, but also services such as water treatment, street lights and traffic signals. As energy prices rise, waste in any of these areas becomes harder to justify and energy efficiency grows more attractive.

New and retrofitted municipal facilities and updated equipment already are lowering energy bills for some New York communities, and enhanced local energy efficiency codes are raising the efficiency of homes and commercial buildings - but we still have a long way to go.

Improve Energy Efficiency in Existing Municipal Buildings

Many local governments begin by incorporating efficiency measures into existing public buildings. Retrofitted facilities are lowering energy bills and providing healthier and more productive workplaces.

Methods and techniques for improving energy efficiency in existing buildings are well established, and technical assistance is readily available. An energy audit can identify inefficiencies, such as building heat loss, inefficient systems and excess electricity consumption ("plug load"); energy consultants can recommend cost-effective changes. Case studies show that improving energy efficiency in existing buildings is popular with New York communities.

Upgrade the Building Envelope

Upgrades to building envelopes may include insulation, windows, doors, air leaks, slabs and foundations, roofs and other aspects of the structure that determine the building's energy use. Such building envelope upgrades typically reduce energy use and GHG emissions by around 15 percent.

Onondaga County Correctional Facility Green Roof
Roofs on four identical buildings at the Onondaga
County Correctional Facility have been replaced
with different styles of sustainable roof, allowing a
comparison of the efficiencies of these technologies.
(Photo courtesy of Onondaga County)

Upgrade Building Systems and Components

Building systems include lighting equipment, boilers and chillers, energy-management control systems and motors. A realistic estimate of energy savings from upgrading to more efficient building systems is on the order of 10 percent - a study by the U.S. Department of Energy found median energy cost savings of 15 percent of total building energy consumption, with a median simple payback period of less than one year.

Improve Electric Power Management

Plug-load equipment (equipment that draws electric power from the grid) is a prime target for energy efficiencies, since it typically accounts for more than 20 percent of electricity use in offices. In New York, the State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) estimates that power management (turning off underused office equipment or adjusting thermostats, upgrading to energy-efficient equipment and encouraging changes in employee behavior) can reduce plug load by 40 to 60 percent. This would mean a statewide emissions reduction of more than 57,000 tons of CO2 every year and significant savings on local government energy bills.

Financing Energy Efficiency Improvements in Existing Buildings

Saratoga City Hall
An Energy Performance Contract for
the City of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. is
expected to reduce the municipality's
total electric-energy consumption by
11 percent and natural gas by 16 percent.
These reductions in energy usage would
reduce greenhouse gas emissions by
429 tons Co2 annually.

Some energy efficiency upgrades to municipal buildings pay for themselves in only a few years, then continue to generate energy and cost savings for many years longer; even upgrades with longer payback times yield significant long-term savings. Innovative financing mechanisms can provide upfront capital, which is paid back over time from the savings on energy bills.

Energy performance contracts allow municipalities to finance facility energy projects without issuing bonds or notes. A performance contract provides a streamlined energy upgrade process and long-term energy cost savings with little or no upfront expenditure of capital. One nationwide study estimates median energy (electricity and natural gas) savings from state and local government performance contracts at 17 kBtu per square foot.

Local governments can obtain financial and technical assistance for building efficiency upgrades from NYSERDA's Existing Facilities, Technical Assistance and Flex Tech Programs. To download program information and application materials visit;/ contact NYSERDA by phone at (518) 862-1090 or toll free 1-866-NYSERDA.

Incorporate Energy Efficiency into New Public Buildings

Local governments can set up long-term energy and cost savings - and demonstrate leadership - by maximizing the "green" features of every new public building.

Local governments can obtain technical and financial assistance for incorporating energy efficiency into new buildings. NYSERDA's Green Buildings Program offers technical assistance to assess designs for efficiency and green building opportunities, along with incentives to help pay the incremental cost of efficiency measures. Check our Municipal Facility Case Studies for more information.

A Green Building Meets Many Local Goals

According to Architecture 2030 (see Offsite Link above, at right) the U.S. will see about 5 billion square feet of new construction, 5 billion square feet of renovation and 1.75 billion square feet of demolition each year by the year 2035 - nearly three quarters of the nation's built environment. So the next quarter-century offers a significant window of opportunity to reduce GHG emissions from the building sector.

While green-building practice has been shown to increase construction cost by 2 percent, or $3 to $5 per square foot, investing in green public buildings saves taxpayer operation and maintenance dollars for the life of the building. A U.S. Green Building Council study has shown the average energy performance of a green building (using today's efficiency technologies) to be 25 to 30 percent better than a conventional building.

As they reduce energy use, green public buildings promote a green economy and green jobs by advancing a new set of skills and practices within the local building industry and making thoughtful use of natural resources for construction and operation. The healthy indoor environment in a green building provides employee productivity benefits.

A U.S. Green Building Council study has shown the average energy performance of a green building (using today's efficiency technologies) to be 25 to 30 percent better than a conventional building.

A successful green building program requires support from local decision makers, as well as from stakeholders involved with the construction, operation and maintenance of buildings in the local government and community. To help promote this support, local governments contemplating a green building should make clear the economic and productivity benefits of green building practices.

Ossining Public Library
The public library
serving the Town and Village
of Ossining is a
LEED-certified building

Improve Wastewater and Drinking Water Treatment Efficiency

Energy efficiency opportunities exist for most, if not all, municipal wastewater and drinking water treatment facilities. Energy is consumed in all stages of the water use and treatment cycle, and the rate of use is increasing as new water treatment issues require energy-intensive solutions.

Today, treating wastewater and providing drinking water cost more than one-third of a typical American municipality's total energy bill, according to recent estimates by the U.S. EPA and NYSERDA. In New York, NYSERDA estimates that municipal wastewater treatment facilities consume 1.5 to 2 percent of all the energy used in the state. It costs between $100 and $500 in electric power alone to treat one million gallons of wastewater. Energy consumption at most facilities could be reduced by 10 to 20 percent, while some facilities could save as much as 50 percent.

While some local governments already are moving to improve the efficiency of their treatment plants, most of New York's municipalities are just beginning to recognize that they could save a lot of tax dollars and GHG emissions by reducing the energy used for water treatment.

Improving Treatment Plan Operating Efficiency and Conserving Energy

Most measures to improve operating efficiency or conserve energy in treatment plants involve upgrading of equipment. Sometimes, however, just a change in operating practices can save energy.

Gloversville Johnstown Wastewater Treatment Facility
The Gloversville-Johnstown
Wastewater Treatment Facility
is saving $175,000 annually on
its energy bill. Converting a
damaged floating cover in the
anaerobic digestion and gas
conversion facility to a fixed
cover with a separate
low-pressure gasholder is
expected to pay for itself in a
little over three years - and
after that, the annual savings
will continue.

New York State programs can help municipalities make sound energy decisions about their water and wastewater treatment facilities and the way these facilities are operated. Several sources of information and assistance are available to New York treatment plant operators seeking to improve efficiency. Case studies of municipalities that have improved operating efficiency in this key local infrastructure offer models for other communities.

Financing Treatment Plant Efficiency and Conservation Improvements

Financial assistance is available to help municipalities upgrade the efficiency of treatment plants. NYSERDA's Focus on Municipal Water and Wastewater program (Offsite Link above, at right) offers cost-shared technical assistance, research, demonstration, and outreach programs, customized energy evaluations (FlexTech Program) and capital incentives (Existing facilities Program).

Improve Energy Efficiency in Local Government Services

Local government budgets and taxpayers will benefit from efficiencies that cut energy use and costs for local services such as street lighting and traffic signals.

Street Lighting

Traffic signals both consume energy themselves, and influence the energy intensity of local transportation. Increasing traffic signal energy efficiency and optimizing signal timing can improve traffic flow and reduce energy costs and emissions. Local governments can choose from a variety of methods to reach these goals.
Street lighting can account for as much as 40 percent of a municipality's electric bill. Most municipalities still use conventional mercury vapor lamps, but more efficient street-lighting technologies are now available. These lights cost less to operate and maintain, have a longer life and provide better visibility because they reduce glare, light more evenly and render color more truly. Energy-efficient technologies feature efficient bulbs and often require fewer poles and fixture heads (luminaries), further reducing capital and operating costs.

Local governments can perform feasibility studies and develop projects that will save money and improve street light service. Some foresighted New York communities have installed energy efficient lighting and already are saving on their street lighting costs.

Traffic Signal
The City of Rome, New York
upgraded 46 traffic signals to
LEDs as part of a larger project
that upgraded lighting in ten city
buildings. At an estimated cost of
$226,339 after a NYSERDA
incentive, the LEDs are
expected to save $17,513

Traffic Signals

Traffic signals both consume energy themselves, and influence the energy intensity of local transportation. Increasing traffic signal energy efficiency and optimizing signal timing can improve traffic flow and reduce energy costs and emissions.

LEDs Improve Traffic Signal Efficiency and Conserve Energy

Updating traffic signals with Light-Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs and energy-efficient timers can help municipalities reduce energy consumption and GHG emissions. LED bulbs are 80 to 90 percent more efficient, last 10 times longer than ordinary traffic signal bulbs and appear brighter than incandescent bulbs.

A 2009 report, Light-Emitting Diodes in Municipal Traffic Signals Reduce Costs and Emissions (found on the New York State Controller's website listed in the right column), showed that if municipalities across the state switched their traffic signals from incandescents to LED bulbs, they could save as much as 22.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually - enough to power more than 3,000 homes for an entire year - and could avoid producing more than 9,200 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

The report also points out that the dollar savings from adopting LED traffic signals could be significant for local governments: if Upstate municipalities converted traffic signals still using incandescents to LED bulbs, the municipalities (and their taxpayers) could collectively save some $40 million in electricity and maintenance costs over 10 years. If New York City's potential savings in electricity and maintenance costs were included, municipalities' potential cost savings statewide would rise to $76.5 million over 10 years.

Visit the website of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Offsite Link above, on right) for further information on LED traffic signals.

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