Spotlight on Orlando: Municipal Buildings Lead on Energy Efficiency


When you think of Orlando, Florida, what comes to mind?  Universal Studios or lakes or Spanish moss might come to mind, but probably not “energy efficiency.”  It should.  When Mayor Buddy Dyer launched an ambitious sustainability plan, GreenWorks Orlando, the city put a clear stake in the ground - a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 levels by 2017, with the ultimate goal of becoming greenhouse gas neutral for municipal operations by 2030.  The city is following up that vision with action that is positioning it to be the leading city in Florida if not in the entire Southeast region when it comes to energy efficiency.   

In 2009, the Orlando appropriated $1 million of its American Recovery and Reinvestment Grant for energy efficiency projects. With this relatively small investment, Orlando has made leaps and bounds in cost savings and emissions reductions, putting them on track to meet their aggressive goals. Over the course of a year and a half, the City focused on the most cost-effective emissions reductions, targeting 28 buildings ranging from fire stations to community centers to museums. Many of the retrofits comprised of advanced controls (proudly made in the USA) that allow facility managers to track energy consumption in real-time and to receive notifications when large systems like chillers or condensing units are using an abnormal amount of energy, enabling facility staff to quickly fix problems. Other measures included replacing air conditioning equipment that was at least twelve years old and initiating LED-replacement programs for the 50,000 residential streetlights in the city. 

The cost savings and emissions reductions already achieved are inspiring. The 28 buildings have seen an average 31 percent annual utility cost reduction, and in 

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many locations community members are saving even more. The 8,000 square foot L. Claudia Allen Senior Center was initially paying $37,000 in energy bills a year.  But following a retrofit to install only controls, the building’s energy bill dropped to $15,500 a year, a 58 percent reduction!  Further, the facilities team noticed a significant improvement in the indoor air quality and overall comfort in the senior center after the retrofit, as evidenced by the severe drop in work orders to address indoor temperature and humidity at the building.  Fire Station 7, a LEED Gold building, cut its energy costs from $28,500 to $18,500 annually by installing informative web-based control systems and also a heat pump water heater which is much more efficient that a traditional water heater. Further, these efforts have significantly enriched relationships between facility managers and city employees who work in these more efficient spaces. 

Orlando’s investment in efficiency has allowed the city to create an in-house Revolving Energy Fund. Each year, the savings on utility bills due to retrofit initiatives flow back into an account that the City can use for additional efficiency projects. This helps ensure future efficiency projects are funded and creates a more efficient municipal government.  This financial model is so well regarded that the EPA published a presentation on it to educate other cities.

Backed by the Fund and resounding successes in saving energy, the city council recently approved $17.5 million for additional retrofits in up to 110 facilities.  These new projects will include City Hall, the Amway Center, parking lots, ball fields, and swimming pools.  The City expects to save $2.4 million a year in utility costs based on these improvements.  $1.4 million of that savings is expected to go towards paying off the bond, and the remaining $1 million will used to help pay for a new police headquarter planned to be net-zero.           

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While the Amway Center is a LEED Gold facility, there is lots of opportunity for improved efficiency such as installing LED sports lighting.  Photo Source.

The city’s continued commitment to efficiency and ambitious emissions reductions goals are bolstered by Orlando’s participation in the City Energy Project.  The Project aims to increase energy efficiency in ten major cities across the nation and will help Orlando staff up even more energy efficiency initiatives.  Efforts like these illustrate how the vision of GreenWorks Orlando coupled with the resources of the City Energy Project accelerate Orlando’s ability to cut emissions, reduce energy bills, and transform itself into a vibrant and competitive city for generations to come.


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


Source for photo of L. Claudia Allen Senior Center