Co-authored by Benjamin Sieck
New Orleans is leaping forward in sustainability and resiliency planning through a new Climate Action Strategy, introduced by Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Friday, July 7th. As one of the most at-risk cities in the United States, New Orleans will contribute to climate mitigation while improving the climate resilience of its streets, buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. The new Strategy calls for the city to reduce its carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. As energy use makes up approximately half of the city’s overall carbon emissions, clean energy and above all energy efficiency will play a key role in the city’s strategy.
The plan’s energy-related goals for the year 2030 are ambitious but also very achievable. New Orleans aims to source 100 percent of its power from low-carbon energy sources, see the installation of 255 megawatts of local solar, and steadily increase energy savings to an annual rate of 3.3 percent through an expansion of Entergy New Orleans’s EnergySmart program. Energy efficiency and renewable energy sources are therefore central to this strategy – and the city can turn to improvements in its building stock to achieve these climate goals while creating value in its neighborhoods.
As reported in the Strategy, New Orleans has been recognized for its leadership in solar installed per capita, and Entergy New Orleans has committed to expanding its energy efficiency programs to achieve 2% annual energy savings. At the end of last year, New Orleans announced its partnership with the City Energy Project, a joint initiative of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation, to help increase energy efficiency in large buildings across the city. With support from this partnership, the city will launch an Energy Savings Challenge to provide a framework for large commercial and multifamily building owners, managers, and tenants to become more aware of energy use, energy costs, and strategies to improve inefficient buildings. To consistently measure and compare the performance of these buildings, a core element of this challenge will be the annual benchmarking and sharing of energy usage data.
The information presented to building managers through benchmarking can lead to substantial attention to and investments in energy efficiency. The U.S. EPA has found that buildings that consistently benchmark energy use save an average of 2.4 percent per year simply by identifying opportunities to improve the operations of a building or the behavior within.
A city-wide ordinance requiring energy benchmarking could multiply these savings numbers. To date, twenty-five cities and counties including Atlanta, Orlando, Kansas City (Missouri), and Chicago have all passed such an ordinance. A recent report in Chicago showed that in 2016, Chicago had nearly 2,700 buildings track and report energy use— and that properties that have reported consistently are demonstrating annual energy reductions of 2 percent year-over-year, equaling $17.6 million in energy bill savings annually. In addition to the bill savings, Chicago saw a 7% reduction in carbon emissions from a 2010 baseline, while experiencing significant population and economic growth. Like these other cities, New Orleans can make significant progress towards its climate goals through these tried, market-based, informational strategies.
By accomplishing the actions laid out in the new Climate Action Strategy, New Orleans can also reduce the energy burden on low-income residents. According to ACEEE, New Orleans has the second-highest energy burden in the nation, with energy bills absorbing 10 percent – and sometimes 15 or 20 percent – of the average low-income household’s monthly earnings. Energy efficiency investments in multifamily housing, for instance, can lead to better indoor air quality and associated health and productivity improvements. In addition to these more intangible benefits, increased energy efficiency investments should lead to lower monthly energy bills. And, energy efficiency can also offset the need for expensive new infrastructure like power plants, protecting the pocketbooks of all households connected to the grid.
As my colleague Philip Henderson details, the New Orleans Climate Action Strategy represents a huge step in New Orleans’ efforts to fight the effects of climate change, and ambitious energy goals and action items are critical to ensuring the city reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Happily, the elements within the plan are well-proven in other locales, and New Orleans stands among a fleet of cities showing leadership.
This announcement by Mayor Landrieu reemphasizes that cities are leading the charge in energy efficiency and the fight against climate change. Mayors across the country, from San Jose to Des Moines to Pittsburgh to Atlanta, are joining New Orleans in pledging that “We’re Still In,” developing climate action and resiliency plans of their own, and joining the country's 347 Climate Mayors. As Mayor Landrieu stated in the wake of the announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement: “As a matter of fact, we will do what we have to on our own to make sure that we protect jobs, protect our national security, and protect the environment—all of which we think fold hand in hand with each other.” With its new Climate Action Strategy, New Orleans is demonstrating this commitment to stand with its communities, to stand with its peers, to act on climate.