Southeastern Cities Take Charge to Embrace Energy Efficiency, Save Money and Create Jobs

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Something amazing is happening in the Southeast. Call it a groundswell, a call-to-action -- just don't call it a fluke. Southeastern cities are taking charge of their futures by addressing the key contributor to climate change in their cities - the energy use of buildings. In Atlanta and Orlando, two cities that are in Urban Solutions' City Energy Project, exciting energy efficiency advancements are occurring that will lead to more sustainable, livable, and affordable cities for residents and businesses alike.

Atlanta recently passed the Commercial Energy Efficiency Ordinance, which requires owners of large buildings in the city to benchmark their facilities' energy and water use on an annual basis and eventually make that data public. The ordinance also requires energy and water audits every 10 years and voluntary retro-commissioning - that is identifying and implementing operational improvements that increase comfort and save energy.

Other cities have passed this kind of ordinance before - New York City, San Francisco, and Boston to name a few - but the passage of this benchmarking and audit ordinance in Atlanta signals something new and impressive. In the Southeast, where it has been notoriously hard to advance energy efficiency in the absence of state energy efficiency resource standards, cities are stepping up and leading efficiency efforts themselves.

Buildings currently account for for 66 percent of Atlanta's total energy, and the City of Atlanta anticipates that the ordinance, in conjunction with improved energy efficiency financing options such as a PACE program, will lead to a 20 percent reduction in commercial building energy use by 2020. In combination with improvements to the electric grid, it should also result in a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 (from 2013 levels) - not to mention create a thousand jobs annually in the next few years. Separately, through its Energy Efficiency for All project, NRDC's Urban Solutions is also targeting the affordable multifamily sector in Atlanta to address barriers to investing in energy efficiency in the housing stock.

Tellingly, Atlanta placed 15th out of 51 cities ranked in this year's ACEEE City Energy Efficiency Scorecard, which was tallied up before passage of the ordinance and these additional initiatives began. No doubt Atlanta will rocket forward in next year's assessment, all while the city also becomes more healthy, sustainable, and livable.

Not to be left out, the City of Orlando has been showing impressive leadership in 2015 on energy efficiency and is fast becoming a marquee city in the Southeast on the topic. It has citywide goals of reducing energy use by 5 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2018 (from a 2010 baseline). These targets are being followed up through meaningful engagement with the business community as well as leadership from the municipality.

A Green Economy Summit hosted by Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orlando, Inc. (the local Chamber of Commerce) in March 2015 attracted national names like Walmart and CBRE to Orlando to discuss how energy efficiency in commercial buildings made good business sense. Commercial buildings contribute to 51% of greenhouse gas emissions in the city, so they have a significant environmental impact as well.

And the city is taking action. Leu Gardens museum and park was recently recognized as a top overall finisher out of more than 5,500 buildings that participated in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Battle of the Buildings. Leu Gardens is an expansive 50-acre botanical oasis and was one of 24 city facilities to receive energy efficiency upgrades and renovations such as air conditioning equipment and building automation systems. Because of these improvements, the facility reduced energy use by 45 percent compared to last year. The city portfolio of buildings in total has experienced 30 percent energy savings and has avoided nearly $1.1 million in energy costs to the city's operations.

Orlando continues to lead as it explores other opportunities to reducing energy and water use in buildings by paying attention to building performance data. One opportunity is Connected Cities, a Clinton Global Initiative that will provide cities with software tools to better understand a municipality's energy and water data and find opportunities to save. And Orlando says it is committed to utilizing best practices like benchmarking and market transparency, audits, and retro-commissioning to drive energy use down and achieve its 2018 goals. With this kind of city leadership, it is no wonder in the first year Orlando participated in the ACEEE City Energy Efficiency Scorecard, it placed in the top 30 cities in the nation.

With the momentum from these Southeastern cities' leaders, and with citizens and businesses galvanized to increase energy efficiency, we are proud to be a part of this effort.