Top US Cities Considered the Most Energy Efficient, by Sandra Wood

Many people recognize the need for increased efforts to reduce energy consumption and make communities cleaner. As cities strive to reduce pollution and conserve energy, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has recognized the ones making the largest strides in this area.

Based on their scores on the City Energy Efficiency Scorecard, this ranking demonstrates the efforts across the country to improve residential energy efficiency. The city rankings also include commercial efforts but, in this article, we will only discuss residential building energy enforcements, policies and incentives.

Boston

As a US Department of Education Better Buildings Challenge Community Partner, Boston has committed to reducing the energy intensity within residential buildings by 20% It has also implemented the Massachusetts Stretch Energy code, mandating new residential buildings surpass the minimum energy code by at least 20%.

In addition, through its E+ Green Building Program Boston provides the opportunity for residential builders to design and build eco-friendly homes on city-owned parcels.

Eversource and National Grid, Boston’s primary electric and gas utility companies take action in the Low-Income Single-Family Core Initiative which is available to low-income residents and provides no-cost energy efficiency measures including insulation, air sealing, repairing or replacing heating systems as well as water efficiency measures and efficient lighting fixtures. According to Eversource, the program achieved 23,490 MWh in energy savings in 2015.

New York City

Residential construction within New York City limits must meet the standards of the 2016 New York City Energy Conservation Code, which is even stricter than the standards set by the state during the previous year. Through the NYC Green Codes Task Force, the city advocates for more stringent residential building codes which demonstrates the need for large-scale improvements in energy efficiency.

When it comes to incentives, NYC offers a tax reduction of $4.50 per square foot for green roofs for one year and 5 to 8 percent tax relief for solar panel-related expenses. Through the EmPower New York program, low income families can take advantage of a few no-cost energy efficiency solutions such as: air-sealing and insulation, refrigerator upgrades, thermostats and lightning. According to the The New York State Energy Research and Development Agency, low income programs helped achieve 7,883 MWh in electric energy savings and 1.07 MM therms in energy savings in 2015.

Seattle

The city not only has adopted the Washington State Energy Code, but it has also become an active participant in the energy code. As of January 1, 2017, the code dictated 20% more stringent energy-efficiency standards on both the commercial and residential levels.  In addition, when it comes to multifamily buildings over 20,000 square feet, owners are required to provide energy usage information to possible buyers or tenants.

Through its Priority Green program, green building projects are offered expedited permitting. Seattle also offers financial incentives available for residents who utilize solar power systems. The Low-Income Weatherization program helps low-income single-family and multifamily properties with energy efficiency measures such as appliance upgrades, air-dealing and ductless heating systems. The Powerful Neighborhoods Program provides direct-installs for efficient lighting, water efficiency measures, and power strips to customers on the Utility Discount Program. Funding for these two programs are given by Seattle City Light, the main electricity provider for the City of Seattle. According to them, the two programs achieved 5,907 MWh in energy savings in 2015.

Los Angeles

Currently, Los Angeles adheres to the 2016 California Building Energy Efficiency Standards (BEES) and the 2016 California Green Buildings Code. When it comes to incentives, energy efficiency financing for residential property owners is currently being offered through the Los Angeles PACE program.

In LA, low-income residents and renters meeting eligibility requirements and living in multifamily buildings can take advantage of the Energy Savings Assistance Program offered by The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and SoCal Gas. This program makes energy saving products available at no cost, such as: water heater blankets, smart power strips, water and gas-saving shower heads and door weather strips. LADWP also offers a Refrigerator Exchange Program, which gives out free, efficient refrigerators to qualified residential customers. According to LADWP, these programs achieved 6,655 MWh in energy savings in 2015.

Portland

In 2014, Portland has adopted the Oregon Energy Efficiency Specialty Code for residential construction. The code is more stringent than the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) for residential buildings.

Incentives are provided in Portland for residential construction above code and home energy upgrades are not required but are highly encouraged. Residents have the choice to pay a small premium for clean energy like solar and wind. Low-income programs in this city offers energy efficient incentives such as insulation, furnace repair and replacement, heating duct improvements, appliance upgrades, water-saving kits, and efficient lighting. The low-income programs in the Portland General Electric accounted for an average energy savings of 2,236 kWh per household and 3,874 MWh in energy savings in its territory.

Austin

The Austin Climate Protection Plan, passed by the city council in 2007, sought to reduce the amount of energy used in single-family homes by 65% over an eight-year period through new, stricter residential building codes. In addition, all homes and multifamily buildings that are ten years or older are required to obtain a home energy audit when selling a property as well as disclosing the results to potential buyers.

When it comes to incentives, the city offers loans to homeowners at low interest rates for upgrading their homes with energy efficient features as well as rebates.

Low income programs are also made available to eligible city residents through the collaborative efforts of Austin Energy, the primary electric utility for the City of Austin. Efficient programs offer: AC loans, AC tune-ups, AC installs and weatherization assistance including air infiltration reduction, attic insulation, solar screens, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, water conservation devices, LED lighting, duct system repairs and replacements. In 2015, these programs achieved 568 MWh in energy savings.

Chicago

Choosing to adopt more rigorous residential standards than required by the Illinois Energy Conservation Code, Chicago has made great strides in the area of energy efficiency. However, residential owners are not required to take an energy audit. Rebates are offered to residents through the Chicago Retrofit Residential Partnership.

Multifamily building owners can take advantage of free energy assessments offered by Peoples Gas as well as direct installs on high efficiency shower heads, programmable thermostats and pipe insulation to name a few. In addition, through the Illinois Energy Now program, low income families can take advantage of upgrades to HVAC equipment, gas equipment, kitchen equipment and water efficiency measures.

Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C. currently complies with the 2013 D.C. Construction Code which is mandatory across the district and includes the includes the Energy Conservation Code. Energy audits are not required to be completed by residential property owners.

Qualified residents in the District of Columbia have access to a direct installation program that offers up to $5,000 of free energy-efficient products and resources, such as: efficient lighting, refrigerator replacements, air sealing and insulation, water saving measures and ventilation fans. According to The District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility, low income programs achieved 4,716 MWh and 0.23 MM therms in energy savings.

More cities have been increasingly adopting and implementing more rigorous residential building standards while offering more incentives for efficient homes. In addition, energy efficient programs are making a real difference nationwide, and more residential homes participating in energy conservation incentives can multiply the results. Be included in the energy-saving efforts by offering home energy rebates and staying educated on energy conservation.

 

Sandra Wood is the home energy master communications specialist at Allbritten, a professional home energy audit company in Fresno, California.

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