Join Mayor Nutter for the Launch of the Energy Reduction Race!

Join Mayor Nutter for the announcement of the Philadelphia Energy Reduction Race, a one year-commitment to reduce energy usage in the city’s largest commercial buildings, next Tuesday at 1PM in City Hall Room 202.

To learn more about the Race, visit www.phillybuildingbenchmarking.com/competition. To RSVP for next Tuesday’s launch event, contact benchmarkinghelp@phila.gov.

Findings from Philadelphia’s Energy Benchmarking Outreach

Last month, Resources Media published an evaluation of the outreach and support work done by Seattle in support of its citywide energy benchmarking policy. Seattle’s Help Desk, staffed primarily by a non-profit partner of the city, provided timely and robust assistance to building owners and operators, helping Seattle achieve one of the highest benchmarking compliance rates in the country.

Philadelphia has taken a different approach to assisting building owners during the first two years of implementing benchmarking and disclosure. While both Seattle and Philadelphia’s programs achieved compliance rates of over 90% in 2014, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (MOS) has handled nearly all benchmarking assistance and outreach internally, providing a direct link between city policymakers and those most impacted by the new law.

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As a result, MOS now has two years of data on nearly 3,000 instances of contact between its staff and building owners and operators in the city (for a program that covers nearly 2,000 buildings). As shown in the chart below, users needed support most in the months prior to benchmarking deadlines (November 2013 and June 2014) and following the receipt of notices of violation for non-compliance (January and July 2014).

The chart also illustrates the extent to which MOS worked to make email the primary mode of communication with building owners. Overall, 71% of assistance was provided via email. This allowed MOS to better track the history of building owners’ issues with benchmarking, improving the quality of its support and reducing required staff time.

By managing assistance in-house, MOS was also able to communicate directly the benefits of energy benchmarking to building owners and operators. In many instances, staff were able to learn more about the hurdles facing these buildings when considering investment in energy-efficient projects and direct them to available incentive and loan programs.

If you have questions about Philadelphia’s benchmarking program, contact us at benchmarkinghelp@phila.gov.

Mayor Nutter’s Statement On The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan Proposal

Mayor Michael A. Nutter released the following statement on the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which proposes the first-ever carbon pollution standards for America’s power plants.  The proposed regulations call on power plants to cut carbon emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.  The statement reads as follows:

“I applaud President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for taking this important, common sense approach to reducing carbon pollution nationwide, mitigating harmful greenhouse gas emissions and, ultimately, moving toward a cleaner environment.

“The proposal presents states and utilities with flexible compliance options, which will allow states to create a plan that works best for them.  It is my hope that Pennsylvania will develop a strong, tailored approach to meet the new standards by utilizing energy efficiency and clean energy technologies.

“In Philadelphia, we work to integrate sustainability principles into the work of City government and are actively advancing climate change adaptation efforts to enhance our resiliency to the changing climate.  Through our Greenworks plan, we are taking the lead at the local level to demonstrate that healthy environments go hand-in-hand with thriving communities and economies.

“Over the past five years, Philadelphia has broken records tied to heat, cold, rain and snow.  And, the effects of this extreme weather has taken a toll on our infrastructure and negatively impacted public safety, public health and the City’s budget. This year alone, our Streets Department will have spent an additional $6.3 million in work fighting winter storms and repairing winter street damage.

“While cities are on the frontline responding to weather events and adapting to climate change, we need Federal action.  The leadership displayed by President Obama in establishing consistent standards and goals is absolutely essential to addressing climate change and carbon pollution.  Once again, I want to thank the President and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for protecting the health of the public and the environment.”

Citywide Benchmarking Results Released

As promised in our last benchmarking-specific blog post, full results of Year One reporting are now available (see below for the results presentation). This report is the culmination of months of hard work by building owners and operators throughout the City of Philadelphia, as well as utility, non-profit, and federal partners.

Among the key findings from this report:

  • Ratable buildings in Philadelphia have an average ENERGY STAR score of 64, well above the nationwide average of 50.
  • Hundreds of buildings fall below this nationwide average, demonstrating the opportunity represented by energy efficiency retrofits.
  • Compliance rates were similar to benchmarking programs in other cities, but improved outreach and guidance will be necessary for Year 2.

The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability looks forward to this continued partnership with building owners in the years to come. The deadline for Year 2 benchmarking is June 30, 2014. If you have questions about the results of Year 1 reporting or compliance with Year 2, please contact our office at benchmarkinghelp@phila.gov.

Philly Enters Top Ten in ENERGY STAR Rankings

(This post is adapted from a recent opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

On Thursday, April 10th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its sixth annual ranking of metropolitan areas with the most Energy Star certified buildings. For the first time, Philadelphia placed in the top 10, moving up to the number-nine spot.

In 2008, only 28 buildings in the city were recognized through the Energy Star program. Today, there are 210 in the region, which collectively saved $29 million in 2013 alone. And that is only a fraction of the opportunity in the city’s building stock.

Philadelphia’s big buildings are the key to cutting carbon emissions and putting millions of dollars back into the local economy. Nationally, commercial buildings represent about 20 percent of energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions. In cities, these numbers are much higher. In Philadelphia, more than half of all the energy used in buildings goes to the commercial sector, and 62 percent of carbon emissions come from buildings. When it comes to buildings’ energy performance, though, information is scarce.

Imagine buying a car with no fuel economy label. It might seem absurd, but in commercial real estate transactions, it’s the norm. That’s starting to change now that Philadelphia and eight other U.S. cities have mandated annual energy benchmarking for large commercial buildings. In 2013, more than 1,700 buildings in Philadelphia tracked and reported energy performance using Energy Star Portfolio Manager. Starting this summer, energy ratings for all of these buildings – including schools, churches, office towers, and municipal buildings – will be publicly available.

By using the EPA’s free Energy Star tools, owners can see how their buildings stack up to their peers and track the impact of their investments over time. Buildings that score a 75 or higher (out of 100) can earn the Energy Star, just like appliances and lightbulbs.

Mercy Philadelphia HosMercy_Philadelphia_400pital earned the Energy Star in 2013 for its commitment to reducing energy use and costs. In addition to installing qualified lightbulbs, the staff started a simple, effective “Turn It Off” campaign. Each Saturday, one team member checks the lights and air conditioners. If they’re still on, the team member turns them off and leaves a reminder for colleagues to “Turn It Off.”

Success in energy efficiency is increasingly important. Every summer, heat waves mean higher operating costs in a region that already pays 20 percent more than the national average for energy. Earlier this year, extreme cold set all-time records for energy demand and sent bills through the roof for many commercial customers. Efficient building systems and operations are the best way to insulate against price spikes while maintaining a comfortable indoor environment.

To achieve meaningful reductions in carbon emissions in an increasingly urbanized world, cities have to lead. And buildings, which are our primary source of carbon emissions, are the key.

About Last Winter . . .

As most Philadelphians noticed, the weather the past few months was a bit outside the norm.  This winter brought nearly 68 inches of snow to Philadelphia, cementing its place in history as the second snowiest on record.  It also had the highest heating degrees days (a measurement designed to reflect the demand for energy needed to heat a building) in the past decade.  Now that we’ve had our last cold streak for the season (at least we hope), we thought it would be worthwhile to take a look back at a few of the major winter weather events.  Sustainability and resiliency are intrinsically related and here at MOS, we were left thinking how the initiatives Philadelphia is pursuing as part of Greenworks can help to lessen the impact of extreme winter weather.

The Polar Vortex

During the peak of the polar vortex in early January, the regional electricity grid was experiencing one of its most challenging times, as heating demands stressed the regional electricity grid.  The local grid operators, PJM, recorded their all-time winter peak use at 141,312 MW on the evening of January 7th.  During that time energy prices were 6 times the monthly average for natural gas and 3 times the monthly average for electricity.  Individuals and organizations that purchase directly from Pennsylvania’s real-time energy markets saw a sharp increase in energy costs.  For the City of Philadelphia, long-term energy management purchasing strategies and energy efficiency investments helped the City avoid the largest increases in its monthly utility bills.

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The Winter of 2013-14 hammered our city with extreme snowfalls–and extreme cold (Source: CNN.com).

The Ice Storm

In February, a cold streak of ice and snow followed by heavy winds resulted in record-breaking electricity outages throughout the region.  The events left millions without power, caused the closing of schools and workplaces, and severely disrupted day to day life.  One of the best defenses against storms is smart grid technology, which allows utilities to find outage areas and deploy remote or on-site solutions to restore service quickly.  Over the past several years PECO has been deploying its advanced meter infrastructure throughout Philadelphia, with plans to complete smart meter installation for residential customers by the end of 2014.  While smart grid technology will never replace the service crews that pull a tree limb off of downed lines, they will enhance resilience in our electricity grid.

 

There’s no forecast for what type of weather future winters in Philadelphia will bring. However, investments in energy efficiency, infrastructure and strong energy management practices will help all Philadelphians better manage winter events.  We’re still crunching the numbers to see just how the winter affected the City’s energy bills, but we’re confident that the investments we’re making today will help reduce our cost burden—and our environmental impact—in the years to come.