The City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA) have jointly signed on to a federal program aimed at lowering energy bills in low-income communities through energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
The City and PEA will take part in the Clean Energy for Low Income Communities Accelerator, a program of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). By signing on to the Accelerator, the City and the PEA are committing to working with DOE to identify barriers to clean energy projects, to demonstrating successful approaches to increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy access, and to sharing resources and other information with partners.
“It’s clear that investing in energy efficiency is a smart way to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By working with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Philadelphia Energy Authority to target low-income households for clean energy projects, Philadelphia can also help to reduce the burden of high energy bills and create local jobs,” said Christine Knapp, Director of the Office of Sustainability.
Through Greenworks, the City’s sustainability framework, the Office of Sustainability leads a variety of energy management programs, such as the retrofit of the City’s four largest downtown buildings which is saving $1.4 million annually.
The Accelerator is an off-shoot of DOE’s Better Buildings Initiative which Philadelphia has participated in since 2011. Through that partnership, the City has worked with businesses and non-profit organizations to implement programs that reduce energy consumption in buildings, which are Philadelphia’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Philadelphia Energy Authority recently announced the launch of the Philadelphia Energy Campaign, which includes a focus on helping low-income residents reduce energy consumption through energy retrofits that can also help spur job creation.
The City of Philadelphia’s new Police Training Center in Northeast Philadelphia has earned a LEED Silver (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Projects pursuing LEED certification earn points across several areas that address sustainability issues.
The 78,000 sq.ft. building at 2838 Woodhaven Road was an $18 million renovation completed by the Department of Public Property. The state-of-the-art facility centralizes some of the police force’s key units, including the Training and Education Services Bureau, Advance Training Unit, and the Standards and Accountability Bureau.
This is part one of a two-part solar blog series.
In light of all the solar activity and discussions recently in Philadelphia, this post will highlight what the Office of Sustainability and our City partners have done to promote solar, streamline City permitting processes and lower the cost to install solar in Philadelphia. We’ll also provide an overview of current market conditions for solar power in Pennsylvania.
The City’s Solar Progress
The City of Philadelphia has taken steps to provide a solid foundation for solar development. In 2008, Philadelphia was named a Solar America City, a U.S. Department of Energy project that works with municipalities across the country to remove regulatory barriers and reduce soft costs of solar development. With funding from this project, the Office of Sustainability worked with industry stakeholders to develop a guidebook outlining a streamlined permitting process for new projects.
In 2012, our office worked with City Council to pass legislation that significantly reduced the cost of solar permitting by excluding the costs of solar panels and inverters in calculating fees. The City continues to work with solar developers and PECO to ensure that existing policies and processes are up-to-date, and is currently pursuing a SolSmart (formerly SPARC) designation through the Department of Energy, a national recognition and a no-cost technical assistance program for local governments designed to drive greater solar deployment.
In addition to reducing barriers for private developers, the City has worked to include more alternative energy projects in city facilities, including solar. In 2011, the City unveiled its first solar photovoltaic system, located at Philadelphia Water’s Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant. The 250-kilowatt solar array consists of more than 1,000 panels covering 60,000 square feet, and its electricity helps power the energy-intensive task of water treatment. The project’s total cost of $1.7 million was funded jointly by a Recovery Act Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant and Philadelphia Water.
Pennsylvania Solar Market Snapshot
The cost of installed solar continues to drop nationwide as solar gains mainstream acceptance, is recognized as a cost competitive source of electricity, and companies develop improved methods to interact with customers.
Throughout the nation, state level policy drives local solar markets and Pennsylvania’s solar industry has lagged in recent years due to inconsistent market signals from Harrisburg and an end to incentive programs. The state has traditionally had two programs that have helped to encourage solar development.
First, the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard requires utility companies to purchase Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), which helps entities re-coup initial investments. Prior to 2010, SREC prices in Pennsylvania were high enough to make investments in solar attractive across the state. However, prices have cratered in recent years from highs of around $400/MWh to a low of $10/MWh. As a point of comparison, New Jersey, which has a similar market, retains SREC prices around $285/MWh, while Pennsylvania’s are in the $15-$16/MWh range. State action is needed to increase the competitiveness of Pennsylvania’s SREC market.
Secondly, the state’s previously robust rebate program ended and has not been re-capitalized. Launched in 2009 under Governor Rendell, the PA Sunshine Rebate program provided $100 million in rebates for solar panels on homes and small businesses. Currently, there are no state incentives available.
Another challenge to the local solar market is low energy prices. Regional electricity prices are near 12-year lows, making payback on solar investments more challenging. Large institutions like the City of Philadelphia and the School District purchase electricity in bulk and pay lower electricity prices compared to the residential marketplace, making the economics of investments more challenging.
The combination of low electricity prices and limited state incentives can make it hard to economically justify solar projects over short terms. Don’t fear though! Projects can still make economic sense over longer time horizons if customers are comfortable with a longer term investment.
Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, which will explore future opportunities for solar on municipal buildings.
Last week, the Philadelphia Prisons System was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its innovative food recovery program. The City was among more than 800 governments, businesses, and organizations nationwide that participated in the 2015 EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge.
The Philadelphia Prisons System composts 1.35 tons of food waste each day, saving $31,000 annually in landfill fees. Along with the composting, the Prison System’s food recovery program provides inmates with hands-on job training in horticulture and urban gardening onsite at the Orchard Program located on property behind Philadelphia Industrial Correction Center on State Street.
“The Philadelphia Prison System sets a tremendous example on using innovation to reduce food waste,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin. “Businesses and communities across America are taking positive steps to address the food waste challenge, and they’re saving money, helping the environment, and feeding hungry people in the process.”
The City was among more than 800 governments, businesses and organizations nationwide that participated in the 2015 EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge.
Spring is finally here, and that means Earth Day is right around the corner, along with all the activities that seem to span the whole month of April. In coordination with Earth Month celebrations, the Office of Sustainability will be kicking off a series of public engagement opportunities designed to solicit your feedback on the next generation of Greenworks. We want to hear from issue experts, students, businesses, faith institutions, and residents from all communities to help us set new goals and initiatives to meet them.
You can make your voice heard in any of the following ways:
- Join the Office of Sustainability for a Twitter chat on Earth Day, April 22nd from noon to 1pm. Send your questions or comments to us @GreenworksPhila using #AskPhilly
- Attend a neighborhood discussion:
- April 20, 6:30 p.m. Columbus Square Park, 12th and Reed Streets 19147
- April 25, 6:30 p.m. Overbrook Environmental Education Center, 6134 Lancaster Ave. 19151
- April 27, 6:30 p.m. Bartram’s Garden, 5400 Lindbergh Blvd. 19143
- May 4, 6:30 p.m. with Germantown United CDC at the Flying Horse Center, 5534-46 Pulaksi Ave. 19144
- May 18, 6:00 p.m. with New Kensington CDC at the future Kensington Community Food Co-Op at 2666 Coral St. 19125
Please RSVP or indicate your interest in attending one of the soon to be scheduled sessions.
We look forward to hearing from you during this exciting time. Happy Earth Month!
The temperatures in the high 70s this week are a reminder that summer will be here before you know it. And with warmer weather comes the constant hum of air conditioning. Have you ever come home from work on a sweltering July day and turned up your AC or fans just to cool down?
Well, you’re not alone. And for our regional electricity grid, all those residents switching on their air conditioning means high demand for energy during the hottest part of the afternoon. To help offset this demand, large property owners including the City of Philadelphia participate in a load management program.
Here’s how it works: When the grid is stressed by high demand, building operators in City-owned facilities reduce the energy consumed in those buildings. By turning up our thermostats a few degrees and cycling certain building equipment off and on, the City helps to avoid brown-outs, blackouts, and can prevent equipment damage.
Even better, participating in this program generates revenue. Over the past five years, the City has earned nearly $2 million dollars through our regional grid operator PJM’s emergency demand response program. Through its other load management programs, the City has avoided millions more in energy costs. Not bad for a few hours’ work.