The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently released its inaugural City Energy Efficiency Scorecard, which ranks cities on their energy efficiency efforts, specifically on initiatives for buildings, transportation, energy and water utility efforts, local government operations and communitywide projects.
Austin placed in the top ten at #6, followed by Houston (#13), Dallas (#14) and San Antonio (#16) in the top 20 and El Paso (#23) and Fort Worth #26 falling just below that mark. Austin and San Antonio probably don’t surprise too many people, especially in light of my previous posts, but Houston, the nation’s oil and gas capital, and Dallas, a high-powered business center, probably don’t spring to mind for most people. However, these two cities have recently turned the tide and are gearing up for a big Texas clean energy showdown.
I think it’s worthwhile to mention that these two cities are impacted by the drought, although Houston feels the strain less due to its location in the Gulf Coast flood plain. But this locational drought-buffer carries its own problems, namely the threat of rising sea-levels, which are predicted to significantly affect Houston.
On top of that, both cities are in non-attainment with ozone standards, meaning their air quality is worse than the minimum threshold set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Therefore, there is a great need to improve the cities’ air quality in order to protect local citizens from health hazards. This gives them a further incentive to undertake clean energy initiatives.
These environmental factors bring to light an important connection relating to energy use. If Texas utilizes more wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) energy, which consume little to no water and generate negligible carbon emissions, we can supply more water to the state’s agriculture sector and thirsty cities and cut down on air pollution. Also, energy efficiency, by reducing our need for energy, automatically reduces the need for water and diminishes carbon pollution. The more we invest in energy efficiency, the more we lower our overall energy use—saving enormous amounts of water and reducing harmful power plant emissions. After all, the cleanest source of energy is the energy we don’t use.
The City of Dallas established an initiative called Green Dallas to inform residents on ways to make Dallas more sustainable. One of the programs under this initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, allowed the city to upgrade 248 of its buildings with energy efficiency technologies, which led to an annual energy savings of $1 million. Potentially, the city could use those savings to invest in other ‘green’ projects, such as paying for energy audits of fire stations, libraries and parks to discover where to get the biggest bang for the city’s buck on future projects.
Additionally, the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) became the first airport to partner with the EPA’s WaterSense program and remodel four of its five terminals with efficiency and conservation in mind. Water upgrades in the airport are projected to save 5.5 million gallons per month. Furthermore, DFW is one of the country’s largest renewable energy purchasers with twenty percent of its electricity needs coming from clean energy resources, like wind and solar PV.
Dallas’ efforts don’t just stop there. The ACEEE scorecard ranks Dallas #8 in the country for transportation-related energy efficiency initiatives. The city’s rail system is a great way to lower the number of commuters driving back and forth on the highway each day, and the city is purchasing energy-efficiency vehicles and building out EV-charging stations throughout the city.
This summer, Houston announced its plan to purchase over 140 megawatts of renewable power over the next two years, making it the largest municipal purchaser of renewable power in the nation, and in the top ten overall. This clean energy will supply half of the city’s annual electricity needs, enough to power about 55,000 homes each year. Furthermore, the city has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 26% compared to its 2007 inventory levels.
Houston invested $60 million towards upgrading 5.2 million square feet of its city facilities with energy water efficient technologies. A total of 297 city facilities are projected to achieve roughly 30% in energy use reductions. Houston is also a community partner in the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge. Through this challenge, Houston committed 30 million square feet to achieve a 20% energy reduction goal by 2020.
Most recently, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department underwent energy efficiency upgrades and Houston now has its eyes set on upgrading the city’s libraries.
Under the leadership of Mayor Annise Parker, Houston has initiated the Houston Green Office Challenge, which challenges commercial building owners and managers to improve their sustainability credentials through cleaner transportation choices, energy conservation, property management/tenant engagement, water efficiency and waste reduction. The challenge is in its third year with over 400 participants.
The initiatives listed above are just a few of the efforts the cities of Houston and Dallas have undertaken to merit ACEEE’s high national ranking, as well as the attention in regional and national press. There is still a lot to be done in these cities and across the state. It will require a statewide approach to really make the strides necessary to improve our energy and water use and protect Texans from the impending impacts of climate change. Texas’ statewide leadership should look to these cities as examples of energy efficiency and clean energy ingenuity and make Texas’ power grid and water systems as efficient and clean as possible for the betterment of the state.