City Efficiency Efforts Could Help States Achieve Carbon Targets

The carbon pollution standard announced last week by the Environmental Protection Agency casts a bright light on the important role that many cities already are playing in the fight against climate change.

States have a great deal of flexibility as they develop compliance plans over the next few years, utilizing the four building blocks the EPA outlines: making fossil fuel power plants more efficient, using low-emitting power sources more, using more renewable energy, and increasing energy efficiency. Of particular interest is the fourth block – energy efficiency – which has shown to be incredibly cost-effective, and is likely to be included in many state plans. In fact, the EPA notes how states already invested in energy efficiency can utilize their programs for compliance. A recent NRDC/ICF International analysis shows how using efficiency-based compliance measures can save American households and businesses $37.4 billion on electric bills in 2020 and create more than 274,000 jobs. Additionally, 531 million tons of carbon pollution can be cut per year, slashing 25 percent of 2012 levels by 2020.

As states think through how to further integrate energy efficiency into their compliance plans, they can consider local energy efficiency initiatives well underway.  For instance, the City Energy Project (CEP) demonstrates how city-based energy efficiency programs can reduce emissions and cut energy bills. The City Energy Project is a joint initiative of the NRDC and the Institute for Market Transformation that aims to increase efficiency of large existing buildings in ten cities that are committed sustainability leaders. More than 50 percent of emissions in most U.S. cities come from buildings. The Project partners with cities to create individualized energy efficiency plans. In total, these cities are projected to cut a whopping 5-7 million tons of carbon emissions annually through efficiency alone, equivalent to taking 3-4 dirty coal plants offline.

Around the country cities are leading efforts targeting energy efficiency and expecting impressive emissions reductions in the near future. New York City, which was an innovator in energy efficiency policies, has reduced its citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 19 percent since 2005 and is on track to reach its goal of a 30% citywide reduction by 2030. Philadelphia is committed to reducing its municipal energy use by 30 percent and is targeting a 10 percent reduction in citywide building energy use. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new building energy benchmarking ordinance raises awareness of energy efficiency through accessibility and transparency. In fact, improving efficiency is one of the key components of Mayor Emanuel’s Sustainable Chicago 2015 Action Agenda, which calls for a 5 percent improvement in citywide energy efficiency by next year. Orlando’s GreenWorks program, initiated by Mayor Buddy Dyer, commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from 2010 levels by 2017, with the ultimate goal of becoming greenhouse gas neutral for municipal operations by 2030.  Already the program has achieved more than $1 million in energy savings, paving the way for future efficiency investments. 

Cities have the will and drive to lead initiatives to reduce emissions for very real reasons.  As Philadelphia’s Mayor Nutter states, “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.” 

We now have that federal action, flexible pathways for states to comply, and cities actively engaged in reducing their carbon emissions by being more efficient.  The resounding success stories coming out of cities regarding energy efficiency outline just how powerful their efforts can be. An increase in city-based efficiency initiatives will result in reduced emissions, better health, and a lower cost of living, freeing up money to flow back into the local economy while helping states comply with the most important action we all can take on climate change right now. 


This blog post was co-written by NRDC’s Stanback Intern, Kipp Follert.