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Sunday, September 22, 2013
In 2006, the city of Roanoke declared its strong commitment to be a leader in environmental stewardship and set goals for reducing its energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Roanoke has been moving forward to reduce energy use and GHG in municipal operations ever since. We believe our investment is a prudent use of taxpayers’ money.
The city reduced overall energy consumption by 11 percent between 2005 and 2012 while increasing square footage by 3 percent. Municipal GHG emissions also dropped 15 percent in three years, beating city council’s goal of a 12.5 percent reduction in five years. If these initiatives were not undertaken, energy costs would have been $577,000 higher, and these savings will increase with time as utility rates continue to rise. In addition to greenhouse gas reductions, using less energy reduces other air emissions like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury that have immediate human health and environmental consequences. These are the results. However, it is important to share how these efforts began.
Working with faculty from Virginia Tech and James Madison University, the first step was to complete an energy use inventory for municipal buildings, lighting and vehicles for the baseline year, 2005. Results were clear: Buildings used the most energy (50 percent) and produced the most greenhouse gases (60 percent), though the vehicle fleet and lighting sectors had significant greenhouse gas contributions at 20 percent each.
Upon completion of the baseline analysis, city council set a stretch goal for municipal operations to reduce GHG emissions by 12.5 percent over a five-year period. Using the baseline analysis as a road map, city staff completed lighting retrofits in buildings, installed motion sensors, performed major upgrades to heating and air-conditioning systems and changed out half of the signalized intersections in the city to LEDs (light-emitting diodes are long-lasting, bright and highly energy-efficient lights).
At the same time, city council committed to constructing all new buildings to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard. Additionally, the Department of Technology began using Energy Star-endorsed equipment that reduces power consumption by forcing dormant desktop computers (more than 1,000) into “power saver” mode, and computer servers were reduced from 80 to 60 by adopting an energy saving “virtual server” standard. The Transportation Division changed 438 city-owned streetlights to LEDs.
In fleet operations, Roanoke was the first community in western Virginia to use biodiesel, employ “street use” all-electric vehicles and inflate vehicle tires with nitrogen (nitrogen is a larger molecule than oxygen, thus deterring air leakage, extending tire life and increasing fuel economy). Additionally, most of the lawn mower fleet was converted to use propane fuel, which burns cleaner than diesel or gasoline and is produced primarily in the United States.
In 2009, Roanoke received a $963,700 energy block grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. These funds were committed directly to municipal energy efficiency. Projects included changing the balance of city traffic signals (80 intersections) to LEDs; a complete lighting retrofit at the courthouse; installation of solar-powered LED flashers at four schools; LED lights in a parking garage; and using direct digital controls, energy saving motors and variable frequency drives in the courthouse that save energy and reduce maintenance by enabling mechanical systems to operate at peak efficiency.
The Roanoke Civic Center, by far the city’s largest building, has a number of initiatives under way using city funds to pay for energy improvements. Projects include a total revamp of the heating and air conditioning system, including installation of a magnetic bearing chiller, updated DDC controls and new, state-of-the-art LED lighting for the Coliseum, one of the first such systems in the United States. Plans are also under way to retrofit the marquees on Williamson Road and Interstate 581 to LEDs. Also noteworthy, the civic center is Roanoke’s showcase project in the Better Buildings Challenge sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The intent of the challenge, which includes more than 150 business and government participants nationwide, is to reduce energy use in buildings 20 percent by 2020. In the second year of the challenge, Roanoke has already reduced energy use by 11 percent.
In addition to installing energy-saving equipment and vehicles, Roanoke signed a contract with an energy demand response company. Demand response providers actually pay participating organizations to reduce energy loads during times of high demand for electricity use. By increasing equipment efficiency and reducing the overall electricity load, Roanoke was able to participate in this attractive program and is receiving monthly payments. For utilities, demand response programs can help forestall building new power plants and address potential brown outs and other related peak-load issues.
A beautiful display of energy efficiency is the 6,700-square-foot green roof installed at the Noel Taylor Municipal Building in 2012. This showcase project that can be seen from the front steps of the building is comprised of sedum plants, ground-up tires and a 3,000-gallon rainwater harvesting system. This roof can potentially more than double the life of the existing membrane, and will reduce heating and cooling loads through increased insulation. Aside from saving energy, the roof has been changed into a garden sustaining a habitat for butterflies, insects and songbirds.
Roanoke’s work in energy efficiency has been recognized. The city won the inaugural GoGreen Virginia competition sponsored by the Virginia Municipal League in 2008 and subsequently received three Platinum awards for implementing sound environmental policies and taking practical actions to reduce emissions.
The Department of Technology won first place in the Center for Digital Government’s Digital Cities Award in large part due to emphasis on internal energy management policies. Roanoke also received first place awards from the Virginia Recycling Association for outstanding municipal recycling and the Governor’s Environmental Gold Award for the Clean and Green Campaign.
Concerns about the causes and effects of climate change fill the media daily. A great majority of the scientific community believes climate change is real and caused primarily by human activity. Many Americans believe that climate change is real, yet are split over its primary cause. Notwithstanding differing perspectives, Roanoke is hedging its bets on the climate change discussion and has moved forward to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in municipal operations. We know that many companies interested in expanding or relocating want to be in communities that value the importance of effective energy management and sustainability. From Roanoke’s perspective, there is a natural link between quality schools, vibrant neighborhoods, cultural programs, diversity, good government services, economic development and, yes, energy efficiency.
Going forward, Roanoke staff will continue to reduce energy use. The Division of Facilities Management incorporates energy upgrade projects in their annual capital maintenance plan, so we expect building energy use will continue to decline. Due in part to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s emphasis on opening up transportation markets to compressed natural gas and propane, duel fuel and CNG powered vehicles will be on the road soon. These fuels burn cleaner, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and engine wear and cost less than either gasoline or diesel fuels. Additionally, the Purchasing Division is evaluating increased use of life-cycle costing when purchasing products. Life-cycle costs include the initial price, installation, operational costs of ownership and disposal of a given asset.
At the end of the day, increasing energy efficiency and reducing the impact of greenhouse gas and other emissions are important to the community. Roanoke will continue to make wise infrastructure investments that result in a solid payback for both.
Weather JournalRain is here; watching for snow