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How to Boost Energy Efficiency in Municipal Facilities/Operations

Reduce Utility Bills and Greenhouse Gases

Improve Energy Efficiency in Existing Municipal Buildings
Upgrade the Building Envelope
Improve Building Systems and Components
Benchmarking to Assess Energy Use Before and After Improvements
Incorporate Energy Efficiency into New Municipal Buildings
Improve Efficiency of Wastewater and Drinking Water Treatment Plants
Improve Energy Efficiency in Local Government Services
Reduce Utility Bills, Save Energy and Materials
High-efficiency Office Design and Equipment
Operating Policies and Practices That Save Energy and Materials
Individual Choices Can Save Energy at Work and at Home

This page provides links and information to help local governments make their buildings, facilities and public services more energy efficient. It is part of the Climate Smart Communities Guide for Local Action and is organized by the same topics (see links above) as the Municipal Facilities and Operations Local Action Overview.

Note: All the following links leave the DEC website

To provide additional links and success stories, telephone or email the Climate Smart Communities program at the numbers shown in the lower right hand corner of this page.

Local Governments Can Set the Pace

Broad background information to help local officials increase energy efficiency in their facilities and operations is included in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) State and Local Climate and Energy Program guide, Energy Efficiency in Local Government Operations and Facilities .

Improve Energy Efficiency in Existing Municipal Buildings

To increase energy efficiency in existing buildings, New York State recommends that municipalities begin by examining energy use patterns and current equipment through a comprehensive energy audit. As an alternative to a comprehensive audit, municipalities can undertake a "plug load" audit, a study of electric power use that can serve as the basis for power management.

New York State provides a low-cost energy audit program that will help municipalities begin their energy efficiency planning. Benchmarking current performance will pinpoint operational improvements (often low-cost), along with savings from upgrading to energy efficient equipment. Re-benchmarking will evaluate progress in energy-saving and measure cost reductions.

New York State's green buildings policy can serve as examples for other governments. Executive Order 111: Green and Clean State Buildings and Vehicles makes detailed prescriptions for energy-efficient state buildings.

Local governments can obtain financial and technical assistance for building efficiency upgrades from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) programs, in particular Existing Facilities, Technical Assistance and Flex Tech. To download program information and application materials visit NYSERDA's website or phone (518) 862-1090 or toll free 1-866-NYSERDA. NYSERDA's Economic Development Growth Extension Program also offers local, regionally-based access to NYSERDA's energy efficiency programs through 26 regional outreach contractors strategically located throughout New York State.

An important resource to help local governments increase the efficiency of buildings and operations is the ENERGY STAR® program of US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Department of Energy (DOE). Any municipal facility, including drinking water and wastewater utilities, can participate in the ENERGY STAR® Challenge, EPA's national call to action to improve the energy efficiency of America's buildings and facilities by 10 percent or more. The Challenge provides tools and resources for local governments.

EPA's ENERGY STAR® can help local governments design energy efficiency upgrades, select energy efficient product models, and plan upgrades.

  • The ENERGY STAR® Building Manual is a strategic guide to planning and implementing profitable energy saving building upgrades.
  • An online utility, the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, helps local governments track and assess energy and water consumption in existing buildings, identify the best opportunities for improvement, track immediate and cost effective reductions over time and document savings results.

Also, the Better Buildings Challenge supports commercial (which includes municipal) and industrial building owners by providing technical assistance and proven solutions to reduce energy use by 20 percent by 2020. The program also provides a forum for matching partners and allies to enhance collaboration and problem solving in energy efficiency. Both partners and allies are publically recognized for their leadership and innovation in energy efficiency. The City of Rochester and Town of Huntington, both Climate Smart Communities, are already participating.

Upgrade the Building Envelope

Building shell improvements such as insulation, weatherproofing and upgraded windows and doors can produce significant savings in energy usage. For this reason, building shell improvements are one of the first places to focus on when upgrading an existing facility.

  • The ENERGY STAR® Guide discusses building upgrades on its small business guide page, which will also help municipalities identify building shell improvements that will make facilities more energy efficient.
  • The Efficient Windows Collaborative provides information on energy-efficient windows -- their benefits, descriptions of how they work, and recommendations for election and use.

Improve Building Systems and Components

Local governments can save energy by upgrading heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems and replacing other electric powered equipment (vending machines, water coolers, appliances) with more efficient (ENERGY STAR®) equipment.

Benchmarking to Assess Energy Use Before and After Improvements

A key element of project design for building system and component upgrading is benchmarking building energy performance. A benchmark enables municipalities to assess performance over time relative to energy management goals, and to identify strategic opportunities for savings and recognition. Benchmarking requires municipalities to analyze energy use and cost.

Documenting square footage, occupancy rate, number of heating and cooling degree days and other information about the building's operation will enable local governments to determine how energy is used, and is the first step in energy benchmarking.

Portfolio Manager: The easiest way to conduct this analysis is to enter energy consumption and cost data into the ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager. Using this tool, users can rate energy performance for many facilities on a scale of 1-100 relative to similar buildings nationwide. (A rating of 50, for example, indicates that the building performs better than 50 percent of all similar buildings nationwide, from an energy consumption standpoint; a rating of 75 indicates that the building performs better than 75 percent of all similar buildings nationwide.)

Analyzing Utility Bills: For building types that are not covered by Portfolio Manager (or in place of using Portfolio Manager), local governments can analyze data from utility bills. At least two years' bills will be needed for all delivered fuels, including direct (stationary) and indirect energy sources.

To collect data from utility bills:

  • Obtain copies of monthly utility bills for delivered fuel.
  • Group utility bills by meter or building. Utility bills will be generated by meter or by building and should include metered consumption (kWh), peak demand (kW). The same bill may show natural gas (delivered in therms or cubic feet). Locate meters and sub-meters and identify the facility, building or space served by each meter.
  • Collect energy cost data shown on the bills.
  • Determine the municipality's rate class, which should also be available on the utility bill.

Improve Electric Power Management

Power management techniques help control the use of electricity in the office environment. Turning off electric power to equipment and lighting that is not in use can reduce energy costs. A power-management (plug-load) audit will assess the amount of electricity used in the plug load and will help make the case for developing an energy-efficient procurement policy.

Incorporate Energy Efficiency into New Municipal Buildings

The first steps in establishing a local green-buildings program include assessing the locality's building portfolio, examining capital improvement plans and quantifying the economic savings of green building practices.

For New York State communities, NYSERDA's Green Building Services makes available technical assistance to assess designs for efficiency and green building opportunities, along with incentives to help pay the incremental cost of high efficiency measures. Energy efficiency services for new building construction and renovations are available on a first come first served basis. By offering higher incentives for buildings that use what is called "whole building design," the program seeks to maximize the efficiency of new buildings. Capital cost incentives are calculated using energy performance and technical assistance is provided on a cost-shared basis. NYSERDA also provides information on possible cost saving measures associated with the design and construction of green public buildings.

The United States Green Building Council Toolkit for Local Governments provides information about local government green building, including summaries of successful programs, project steps, and benefits and barriers to implementation, plus examples of cities and regions across the country that have led the way in incorporating green building into local ordinances, building codes, tax incentives, and guidelines.

Improve Efficiency of Wastewater and Drinking Water Treatment Plants

Energy represents a substantial cost to New York State's municipal wastewater treatment sector. On average, New York municipal wastewater treatment plants consume between 1,100 and 4,620 kilowatt-hours of electricity, at a cost ranging from $100 to $500, for every million gallons of wastewater treated.

The wastewater treatment process itself consumes 70 percent of the energy used; significant energy also is needed for influent pumping, solids disposal and lighting/building operation. Opportunities to optimize energy use at typical facilities include: installing premium efficiency motors and variable speed drives; re-sizing or upgrading pumping systems or adopting alternative pumping schemes; adding controls; upgrading buildings, including installing automated dissolved oxygen controls. Individual facility evaluations will suggest an action plan for upgrading each facility's energy efficiency.

Water and wastewater treatment plants are critical, long-lived infrastructure, often sited near water bodies for effluent discharge. For these reasons, any planning for these facilities must include adaptation to future climate conditions.

To help water and wastewater utilities implement climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, EPA has launched the Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative. To promote a more resilient water sector, the initiative is developing tools and resources that will help water and wastewater utilities to assess climate change impacts and develop adaptation measures.

  • The Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool is an interactive tool designed to assess potential climate change impacts on water and wastewater utilities.
  • The CRWU Toolbox is a searchable online database of climate-related resources for utilities at all stages of the planning and decision making process.

Improve Operating Efficiency and Conserving Energy in Water Treatment

Managers of drinking water systems and wastewater treatment plants can assess energy use, energy costs, and associated carbon emissions by using Portfolio Manager, EPA's online benchmarking tool. Portfolio Manager also offers wastewater treatment plant managers the ability to compare the energy use of their plants with peer plants, using the EPA energy performance rating system.

Some New York municipalities are improving operating efficiency and conserving energy in key local water treatment infrastructure -- saving energy, taxpayer dollars and greenhouse gas emissions.

Financing Treatment Plant Efficiency and Conservation Improvements

Through cost-shared technical assistance, research, demonstration, and outreach programs, NYSERDA's Focus on Municipal Water and Wastewater encourages municipalities in New York State to adopt commercially-available and innovative technologies that improve the energy efficiency and economics of water treatment facilities, while also meeting or exceeding regulatory requirements and reducing environmental impacts. A good resource for treatment plant operators is NYSERDA's Water and Wastewater Energy Management Best Practices Handbook, published in March, 2010. The handbook can be accessed from Focus on Municipal Water and Wastewater. Scroll down to "Focus on Municipal Water and Wastewater Facility Energy Efficiency" to find the handbook link, along with several evaluation tools for local officials and a group of case studies from New York State water treatment facilities.

Improve Energy Efficiency in Local Government Services


Input is needed from engineering and public works staff, municipal planners and elected officials for a successful street lighting efficiency project.

Guidance for Street Lighting Projects

NYSERDA's High-Efficiency Public Street Lighting Project how-to guidebooks contain information and ideas for municipal officials, planners and engineering staff considering street lighting projects in New York State.

Streetlighting Feasibility Studies

NYSERDA's FlexTech and Existing Facilities programs are available to help local governments determine the feasibility of upgrading street lights.

Traffic Signals

The community economic and development toolbox of the Community and Rural Development Institute (CaRDI) at Cornell University includes information on Traffic Signal Management.

In the past, some local governments have funded traffic signal or street light upgrades through NYSERDA's Existing Facilities program.

Reduce Utility Bills, Save Energy and Materials

Building energy use depends on how the buildings are designed and equipped and on the behavior of the people who work in the buildings. Building operator policies shape some behaviors, while individual choices determine others. The following list of how-to's includes building design/equipment, operator policies and individual decisions.

High-efficiency Office Design and Equipment

  • Maximize availability of natural light by locating private offices in interior areas of the building.
  • Inspect and decommission or retune heating, air conditioning and ventilation equipment to ensure optimal performance.
  • Cycle and restart equipment on a staggered basis to shed electricity loads and minimize peak electricity-demand usage.
  • Use certified compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) instead of halogen or incandescent bulbs. CFLs use 75 percent less energy, last 10 times longer and produce less heat
  • than other bulbs.
  • Install motion detecting switches in less-used areas.
  • Install ENERGY STAR® office equipment (such as copiers, fax machines, computers).
  • Buy flat screen monitors for your computers. They are more energy efficient.
  • Purchase re-manufactured or refillable ink and toner cartridges and use vegetable-based and recycled (filtered) inks; avoid inks containing heavy metals.
  • Select printing services that use alcohol-free printing processes. Ensure that the materials and practices your printers use are sustainable and that solvents used are free of toluene and methylene chloride.

In September, 2012, NYSERDA announced the "Buy Green, Save Green Rebates for New York State Local Governments" program . By participating in this program municipalities can receive rebates of 75% of the purchase price of eligible products such as Energy Star appliances, office equipment, CFLs and LEDs.

Operating Policies and Practices That Save Energy and Materials

Saving Paper and other Materials
  • Copy documents double-sided. Double sided (duplex) printing and copying can reduce paper use by up to 30 percent. Many copiers and printers allow duplex printing as a default; if office copiers or printers do not allow duplex printing, make sure that future equipment purchases do.
  • Use track changes to modify documents, instead of printing and marking up.
  • Do not provide presentations on paper unless requested.
  • Avoid using FAX cover sheets; program the fax machine so that it does not automatically print out a confirmation report for every fax. Use a fax modem (electronic fax) instead of a regular fax machine.
  • Use email instead of U.S. mail.
  • Store reports and documents electronically, rather than on paper. If a hard copy is necessary, print only the required pages and print double-sided.
  • Set print document margins to .75 to conserve paper.
  • Purchase recycled paper (the best environmental choice is 30 percent minimum recycled-content and tree-free blend papers labeled PCF, or process chlorine-free).
  • Collect "scrap" paper and make notepads for staff use
  • Survey employees to determine how paper waste is managed in your office. Then conduct an educational campaign on the benefits of reducing paper.
  • Save and reuse corrugated moving boxes.
  • Reuse office furniture and supplies, such as interoffice envelopes and file folders.
  • Recycle office paper, toner and ink cartridges. Place recycling bins near faxes, copiers and shredders.
  • Use durable towels, tablecloths, napkins, dishes, cups, and glasses in office kitchens. Hold a drive to collect these items from employees, and place them in office kitchens for all to use.
  • Use only rechargeable batteries in battery-powered devices (other batteries must be disposed in landfills).
  • Use laser printers wherever possible. Lasers use less toner and no ink.
  • Use incoming packaging materials for outgoing shipments.
  • Collect and recycle aluminum cans and plastic bottles.
Saving Energy
  • Activate the ENERGY STAR® energy saving functions available on most computers and office equipment. These functions make the equipment up to 52 percent more efficient.
  • Plug all electronics into power strips and switch off before leaving the office for the day.
  • Develop procurement policies that give preference to locally manufactured supplies.
Reducing Business Travel
  • Hold teleconferences and webinars instead of travelling.
  • Host green meetings or events -- incorporate environmental considerations by using recycled materials, recycling materials used, reusing items and reducing materials used. This minimizes your meeting's impact on the environment and saves money for the organizer.
  • Support telecommuting by developing job descriptions that can be performed (at least some of the time) from home with an internet connection and telephone. (Greenhouse gas reductions and dollar savings for employer and employee are substantial when employees work at home.)
  • Support employee carpooling by respecting carpool schedules and helping staff to identify potential carpool members with similar schedules or routes.

Individual Choices Can Save Energy at Work and at Home

  • Open windows instead of using air conditioning where possible.
  • Turn off your climate control when not needed.
  • Switch off lights when not in use.
  • Set your computer to go to sleep automatically during short breaks (cuts energy use by as much as 70 percent). A screensaver that shows any image on the screen doesn't save any energy at all -- you save energy only if the monitor goes dark (by going to sleep or hibernating, or by being turned off at the switch).
  • Unplug chargers when not in use. Mobile phone and Blackberry chargers continue to charge even when not connected to the device, using up to 95 percent of the power they use when the device is plugged in.
  • Reuse single sided printed pages for notes.
  • Re-use file folders by placing a new label over the old one.
  • Use pencils instead of pens. Pens leave more waste in landfills and are more expensive.
  • To avoid printing unnecessary text or web page navigation, use the website's "printer-friendly" option or paste sections into a Word document before printing.
  • Do not buy bottled water -- use tap water, if necessary with a water filter.
  • Use a refillable bottle or mug instead of a disposable cup for water and coffee
    Car pool --you'll save greenhouse gas emissions and reduce commuting costs.