Efficiency, electrification, and renewable energy are core components of a municipal-led initiative to improve the health and safety of buildings and to combat the impacts of climate change. But how do you prioritize and implement these strategies?
State and local clean energy goals often overlap – so who should take the lead?
Public buildings are controlled by local governments, while commercial and residential buildings are not – so how can private building owners be engaged in this process?
All these questions can halt momentum in a community that is trying to be a catalyst for change and supporting the region’s shared goals of reducing emissions from the buildings sector. In a recent project with Jamestown, Rhode Island, all of these questions and more arose and required deep thinking through the energy planning process.
Jamestown is a small coastal community taking action to develop a plan to systematically change the way energy is consumed across all building types. NEEP has worked with the town planner and a resident, who was deemed as the local energy champion, over the past 1.5 years to develop a strategic energy plan through a project funded by 11th Hour Racing. The Jamestown Energy Plan, which has been presented to the Town Council for formal adoption, focuses on helping residents, business owners, and municipal operations reduce costs, improve indoor environmental conditions, and reduce emissions through voluntary action. The project team worked with a group of residents to ensure the plan is grounded in reality and consistent with local priorities.
While the Jamestown Energy Plan may be new, the idea of focusing on sustainability in Jamestown is not. The Energy Plan builds off various other efforts such as The Sustainable Jamestown initiative, which created a framework for sustainability and resiliency across many different sectors, a ban on single-use plastic bags, and successful clean energy improvement projects in the schools, among other actions. Jamestown residents have firsthand experience with climate change challenges, and the town is showcasing its leadership by pursuing the new Energy Plan.
The Energy Plan
Jamestown, like many other municipalities that go through the process of developing an energy plan, wanted to set ambitious, attainable, and measurable energy goals specific to their building stocks. While goal-setting is important, it can be a significant challenge for small communities to even obtain the data around energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions necessary for proper goal-setting. Therefore, the project team – guided by input from the advisory committee – decided that this was one instance where the town should follow the lead of the state of Rhode Island.
The Energy Plan lays out two familiar long-term goals including (1) achieving net-zero by 2050, and (2) generating 100 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2033, which align with the state. Additionally, one of the recommendations in the plan is to conduct a more in-depth greenhouse gas inventory so the town can track progress over time. Setting long-term goals was helpful to guide the overall direction of the Energy Plan but the project team also wanted near-term goals that would inform the town’s priorities over the coming years. These short-term goals can be both quantitative and qualitative in nature but should be specific to what the town wants to accomplish in the next five (or so) years. The short-term goals set by Jamestown are to:
Conduct a comprehensive, community-wide greenhouse gas inventory that enables the town to set a near-term, realistic emissions reduction goal
- Adopt a Community Choice aggregation program by 2023 and increase the percentage or renewable energy supply each year in addition to the minimal program offering
- Increase the number of homes and businesses participating in rebate programs offered by Rhode Island Energy (formerly National Grid) each year
- Conduct one educational campaign each year about the benefits of electrification and efficiency
After establishing goals, the project team moved to the heart of the plan –developing strategies and recommendations. The strategies are based on three key themes including (1) leading by example with the town’s municipal operations, (2) increasing awareness and educating residents and business owners about opportunities for efficiency, electrification, and renewable energy, and (3) considering both voluntary and mandatory programs to ensure progress.
The project team was careful and intentional in not making the plan overly prescriptive; it’s meant to be a guiding framework for years to come. Each individual strategy contained within the Energy Plan will need to be fully considered prior to implementation. As other jurisdictions develop energy plans, they too will need to consider the political will of the community as they adopt mandatory or voluntary programs.
There are three “strategy sections” contained within the energy plan which are broken down by sector (i.e. municipal, residential, and commercial). Each section contains a short overview of specific recommendation, key implementation considerations, and additional resources to assist the town through the process. A sampling of recommendations found within the plan include:
Recommendations for municipal operations
- Conduct regular building energy benchmarking of public utilities
- Adopt an energy equipment upgrade policy
- Implement a community choice aggregation program
Recommendations for residential buildings
- Adopt a residential energy labeling program
- Adopt the state's residential stretch code
- Establish a community energy coaching program
Recommendations for commercial buildings
- Adopt the state's commercial stretch energy code
- Implement a town-wide benchmarking policy
- Create an online resource library
Many of the strategies listed above, and detailed in the Energy Plan, are not specific or unique to Jamestown. Jurisdictions that have comparable aspirations to Jamestown can utilize similar strategies to take action at the local level.
A key discussion point at the Jamestown Energy Plan has gone through the review process by the Town Council and Planning Commission has been to clearly define who (or which entity) within the local government will take ownership of the plan. While the development of these types of plans is a great step, true progress is made only when the town focuses on ongoing implementation of these strategies. Therefore, communities should empower a municipal department or create a new position that will be charged with oversight of the Energy Plan – as is the case in Jamestown. A key lesson learned throughout this process is the importance of a local-level energy champion. A concerned citizen or interested staff member goes a long way in giving these processes momentum. Like so many other communities in the region, Jamestown benefited from a local energy champion. Communities can thrive when there is a buy-in from residents and leadership from local officials.
Communities may be faces with many obstacles during the energy planning process but there are resources and models on which to build. If you are interested in learning about the Jamestown Energy Plan or are looking for resources to create a plan for your own community, please contact John Balfe or check out NEEP's resources for communities starting with the CAPEE tool.