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How to Develop a Local Climate Action Plan

Methods and Assistance for Local Governments

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Assistance and Support for Local Planning

Assistance for developing a local action plan is available from government and non-governmental organizations.

  • NYSERDAs FlexTech program: NYSERDAs competitively selected contractors provide a variety of technical assistance services applicable to developing all or part of a local action plan. These services are provided on a cost-shared basis, and include:
    • Engineering feasibility and technical assistance studies
    • Detailed analysis of specific energy efficiency projects
    • Process improvement
    • Rate analysis, load shapes, and energy service aggregation
    • Engineering in support of project-financing proposals
    • Development of long term capital budget strategies for the upgrade or replacement of energy-consuming equipment
    • Retro-Commissioning of energy-efficiency measures in existing buildings
  • The US Department of Energy (DOE) sponsors a research and technical assistance program, called the Work For Others (WFO) program, for U.S. State and local government entities. DOE is authorized to supply technical assistance and to make arrangements (including contracts, grants, agreements) for conducting research and development activities with States and their political subdivisions, the purpose of which is to increase the probability that energy-efficient technologies will be adopted.
  • The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), has developed an online tool that can help localities select appropriate energy efficiency policies. The Local Energy Efficiency Policy Calculator (LEEP-C) is a downloadable analysis tool that calculates estimates for energy savings, cost savings, pollution, jobs and other outcomes resulting from selected policies over a time period designated by the user. The policies included cover two sectors - public buildings and residential buildings.
  • ICLEI Local Governments For Sustainability - ICLEI is a membership organization with annual dues for members. ICLEI's Cities for Climate Protection program is structured according to five milestones, one of which is Climate Action planning. Under ICLEI's process for GHG mitigation, following a commitment statement of the local government, municipalities will:
    • Measure their emissions of greenhouse gases, generated through the actions of their local government administration (government emissions) and through the actions of the community they serve (community emissions),
    • Commit for an emissions (government or community) reduction target with respect to a base year and a target year,
    • Plan their actions (e.g. energy efficiency in buildings and transport, introduction of renewable energy, sustainable waste management) at the government and community level to reach this committed reduction target,
    • Implement their Local Climate Action Plan,
    • Monitor emissions reductions achieved by their mitigation actions.

ICLEI software allows governments to quantify the emissions reductions (GHGs and criteria air pollutants) and cost savings associated with individual energy efficiency and other sustainability measures or from a comprehensive action plan. ICLEI also offers a process for planning and implementing a local climate adaptation program.

Components of a Local Action Plan


Communities can include some or all of the following information in the Local Action Plan rationale:

  • A brief affirmation that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are increasing, average annual temperatures are rising and that these changes are largely due to human activity. List of reliable climate science sources (use resource page?)
  • Expected impacts and, where possible, costs from climate change in the region where the community is located;
  • How climate change is expected to affect local public health and safety;
  • Benefits to the local community from promoting a green economy.

Action items - Developing and Evaluating

Communities can select from several methods and tools for determining that the net cash flow of energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy projects is higher than the initial outlay. The profitability of energy projects depends upon a number of factors, such as expected energy savings, the cost of energy, operational savings, co-benefits such as improved productivity and the rate of inflation. Local governments should become familiar with financial analysis tools to help identify the most cost-effective energy projects.

ICLEI Software. Software provided to members of ICLEI allows governments to quantify the emissions reductions (GHGs and criteria air pollutants) and cost savings associated with energy efficiency and other sustainability measures. After the implementation year, sector and type, and energy data associated with each measure have been entered, the software calculates emission reductions and estimated cost savings associated with each measure. This tool can be used to evaluate individual measures or to develop a comprehensive local action plan. (ICLEI member communities are assessed annual membership dues based on population.)

Life cycle costing. Life cycle costing assesses the sum of the present values of the costs of investment, capital, installation, energy, operation, maintenance, and disposal over the life of the product. A life-cycle cost is an effective tool to determine whether energy efficiency investments are cost-effective over the long run.

Local governments commonly apply life-cycle cost analysis to evaluate efficiency targets for civic buildings, machinery, electronic equipment for the office, infrastructure such as that associated with public transportation, land use planning, and regulations for residential and commercial building projects. Some local governments use life-cycle cost analyses to prioritize energy efficiency activities and energy-efficient products based on comparative simple payback periods, incorporating this analysis as a requirement in energy policy. Life-cycle cost analysis can be particularly useful when evaluating high-cost infrastructure and renewable energy opportunities.

For more information, see the ENERGY STAR® Building Upgrade Manual Chapter 3: Investment Analysis, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Life-Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) and EPA's Building upgrade manual.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers several tools for estimating the rate of financial return and GHG emissions reductions on an energy project:

  • AVoided Emissions and geneRation Tool (AVERT). A tool that estimates the emissions benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy policies and programs.
  • Target Finder. Target Finder lets a user establish an energy performance target for a design project or major building renovation based on similar building types and desired energy performance. By entering the project's estimated energy consumption, users can then compare the estimated energy use with the target to see if the project will achieve its goal.
  • Cash Flow Opportunity Calculator. This tool can be used to determine how much new energy-efficient equipment can be purchased based on estimated cost savings; determine whether equipment should be purchased now using financing or if it is better to wait and use cash from a future year's budget; and determine whether money is being lost by waiting for lower interest rates.
  • Financial Value Calculator. This tool presents energy efficiency investment opportunities in terms of key financial metrics. It can be used to determine how energy efficiency improvements can affect organizational profit margins and returns on investments.
  • Building Upgrade Value Calculator. This calculator can be used to estimate the financial benefits of improving energy efficiency in office buildings.

Funding Strategy and Implementation Priorities

Some communities are employing innovative financing strategies to pay for efficiency improvements and renewable energy projects.

Municipal leasing: A tax-exempt municipal lease purchase agreement is an alternative to a cash purchase or municipal bond issue that does not raise municipal balance-sheet debt or require a lengthy bidding process and can be paid back through savings in the operating budget. Lease purchase agreements do not place obligations on capital budgets if operating budgets do not, for some reason, cover annual costs. A municipal lease works more like an installment purchase agreement than a traditional lease and assumes that the municipality will own the asset (in this case the energy-efficiency measures) at the end of the lease term. As an added benefit, the interest rates through the municipal leases are exempt from federal income tax and their net interest costs are typically lower than bonds. Compared to most other forms of financing, municipal leases are quick and easy to set up and administer. Tax exempt municipal lease financing is becoming increasingly popular as a way to finance energy projects for local governments.

Energy performance contracts: An energy performance contract (EPC) is a method of financing energy projects for local government facilities without issuing bonds or notes, with the energy savings expected to pay for project costs. Through an EPC, a local government will contract with an energy services company (ESCO) to perform a variety of services, which may include an audit of facilities, design a retrofit project, arrangement of financing, contracting of all purchases and services needed and installation and maintenance of the retrofits. Energy performance contracting can be used to retrofit buildings, wastewater treatment plants or other facilities, or to improve operations and maintenance practices and for infrastructure projects such as traffic signals. An EPC can be financed through a tax-exempt municipal lease.
For more information, see EPA/ENERGY STAR®: Financing Energy Efficiency Projects:

New York State Financial Assistance: This guide highlights many technical assistance and financial incentive programs available through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) that can be leveraged for local emission-reduction measures.

NYSERDA program opportunity notices (PONs) detail the requirements for each funding program. The agency website carries lists of Current PONs and upcoming PONs.
Local governments can sign up to receive notices of NYSERDA funding opportunities.

Funding through a local utility: The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and the New York Power Authority (NYPA) host funding and technical assistance programs for municipalities within their territories.

Engage Staff, Stakeholders and the Community

A successful GHG reduction or adaptation plan is likely to have a significant impact on the community, particularly in land use and transportation planning. Effective community engagement in the planning process is critical to enable local governments to reach their climate protection goals.

Local governments and task forces should identify opportunities to engage the public early in the climate smart planning process. Public awareness of the problems of climate change and support of local government action are increasing, but the issues, science and responses are evolving.

Engaging Staff:

All departments within the municipality should be involved in developing and implementing the local action plan. While the elected officials are responsible for signing the resolution to enact the Climate Smart Communities Pledge, it is common for local government staff to be unaware of a resolution passing, or how to respond to it. Engaging staff from all government departments is crucial, as they will be responsible for implementing the measures recommended in the local action plan. It is important that key staff members be informed of the latest climate science and the need to reduce GHGs as well. Staff from local environmental groups, colleges or universities may be willing to brief the municipal staff on climate science.

  • In particular, it is important to Engage regional partners and local stakeholders. Large local groups, such as neighborhood associations, regional growth planning groups, colleges and universities, transit authorities, major employers and industries, and energy or environmental organizations are important stakeholders to engage in the planning process. Such groups represent large populations and interests, and may offer local familiarity and expertise to the process. Further, certain colleges/universities, non-profit groups may be interested in partnering to help plan and promote a local climate protection agenda. Aligning with local partners helps to broaden acceptance of climate protection, and may be a useful source of expert volunteers.

Some options include:

  • Public meetings, workshops and information sessions: Public meetings, workshops and information sessions are common ways to reach out to the public about a particular topic and receive feedback. This form of outreach can be limited, however, as a limited number of residents (and often a familiar crowd) attends. Nevertheless, the public appreciates the opportunity to interact directly with officials, staff and taskforce members. Local governments can promote attendance and diversity by ensuring that public meetings are held in easily accessible points within the community during the evening hours so that all are able to attend. Make sure that the meeting is well publicized in multiple media (print, radio, web) to ensure the public is aware of it taking place.
  • Charrettes: Charrettes are a more interactive form of public meeting that allows participants to engage in particular components of the plan in detail under the guidance of a facilitator, often over several days, to generate potential solutions.
  • Surveys: Surveys are a great way to gauge a community's interest and concerns with the climate protection process. Surveys can take many forms: either phone, mailings, or web-based; each with their advantages and disadvantages. Web-based survey tools, for example, are inexpensive and easy to develop and distribute, though not all residents may have internet to access the survey. Surveys should be kept fairly short and simple.
  • Information campaigns Information campaigns can be used early in the planning process to build awareness of the need for climate protection before there is an opportunity to participate directly. Information can be distributed through mailings, newspaper, or other media such as the radio or the community website. Consider developing a display booth at a local public venue such as a library, fair or mall to provide information.

Resources for conducting an education and outreach campaign: ICLEI Outreach and Communications Resource Guide. (Follow link, scroll down and choose the Outreach and Communications Guide.)