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How Efficient Is Your City? America’s 34 Largest Towns Get Ranked

By Jeff Spross  

"How Efficient Is Your City? America’s 34 Largest Towns Get Ranked"

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Boston, Massachusetts

CREDIT: National Geographic / Gregory Kushmerek

Even the U.S. cities that have gone the furthest in building energy efficiency still have a lot of ground they could cover, according to a new report. Boston, Massachusetts — the report’s highest-scoring city — still left a quarter of the possible points on the table, and only 11 cities scored more than half the possible points.

Titled the “2013 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard,” the report was released last week by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). It covered 34 of America’s most populous cities and scored efforts to save energy and promote efficiency on a 100-point scale, with five categories: local government counted for 15 points, community initiatives for 10, buildings for 29, energy and water utilities for 18, and transportation for 28.

  • Local Government looked at executive orders, city council resolutions, municipal operations, procurement and construction policies, and city asset management strategies to promote energy efficiency.
  • Community Initiatives focused on the quality of city-wide efficiency programs, such as progress tracking, funding, use of staff, program evaluation, use of distributed energy, and mitigation of the heat island effect.
  • Buildings covered the stringency of residential and commercial building codes, compliance efforts, availability of service programs and providers, requirements and incentives, and the quality of monitoring.
  • Energy and Water Utilities included funding for energy and water efficiency programs, energy efficiency savings as percentage of retail utility sales, smart data usage, water saving targets, waste water management, and storm water management.
  • Transportation, not surprisingly, dealt with questions of vehicle efficiency policies, freight movement, and smart use of location, among other things.

The top six cities, in order, were Boston, Portland, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Austin. Their successes were diverse: “Portland scored highest in transportation and local government operations,” according to the ACEEE. “Seattle ranked first in building policies. San Francisco tied with Boston for first in utility public benefits programs, and Austin is the city furthest ahead of its state on energy efficiency policy.”

city-efficiency-score-ACEEE

CREDIT: ACEEE

The report makes a number of recommendations for further improvement, many of which are commonsensical but still worth emphasizing. Cities can promote energy efficiency with infrastructure policies, government building and vehicle requirements, and better practices for employees. If a city has the authority under its state laws, it can set energy codes for non-government buildings as well. Widespread use of — and access to — data is very useful, as is systematically dedicating city staff to tracking and reporting on the progress of various policies. Cities should work to cooperate and partner with utilities, and use zoning, as well as car-sharing and bike-sharing efforts, to encourage more efficient modes of transportation and to cut down on automobile dependency. Finally, hard targets and goals for energy efficiency can help move a municipality forward.

On the positive side, this report highlights that grappling with climate change and encouraging energy efficiency are not merely the purview of federal or even state governments. Municipal governments and local communities can push — and have pushed — things forward on their own terms. That Austin ranked sixth on the report is a pointed example, given the city’s instrumental role in leading Texas to some of the cheapest solar installation prices in the country, despite the climate-denialism rampant within the state’s government.

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