Six Bay Area Cities Participate in Energy Efficiency Competition

Berkeley, San Mateo, Building Energy Savings Ordinance, Bay Area, San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, Fremont, Georgetown University Energy Prize
GU Energy Prize Semifinalists
GU Energy Prize Semifinalists
GU Energy Prize Semifinalists

By Adam Steinhauer

Six Bay Area cities are among 50 nationwide competing for $5 million in a contest to see who can achieve the biggest improvements in energy efficiency.

Berkeley, Davis, San Mateo, Palo Alto, Fremont and Sunnyvale all are competing in the semi-final round of the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition. No other region appears to have as many communities participating.

[contextly_sidebar id=”P4hn23h9wV0zGG4fudm56PdV5o1gS7j5″]The competition challenges municipalities “to achieve innovative, replicable, scalable and continual reductions in the energy consumed by residential and municipal customers from local natural gas and electric utilities,” according to Georgetown University. It is open to communities of 5,000 to 250,000 residents.

The competition has been going on since 2014 when the initial participants submitted applications to Georgetown. The semi-final round began last year and will be completed at the end of 2016, when the current field of 50 competitors will be narrowed down to 10 or fewer. The prize, which can be spent on energy-efficiency projects, will be awarded in June 2017.

Along with the Bay Area entrants, competitors include such far-flung communities as Atlantic City, N.J., the Los Angeles suburb of Claremont, and Urbana, Ill.

Of the Bay Area cities competing, Berkeley appears to have the most aggressive plan in its requirements for commercial landlords.

It’s requiring building owners to have their properties inspected for energy efficiency and to publicly disclose the results.

The requirement took effect in December under Berkeley’s new Building Energy Savings Ordinance.

San Francisco has a similar ordinance that was adopted two years ago, but other Bay Area cities are generally focusing their energy efficiency policies on residential buildings and government facilities.

“It’s also worth noting that a lot of our policies are designed for the long run,” said Neal De Snoo, energy program officer in Berkeley’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development. He noted previous programs that reduced residential property energy use by an average of 18 percent. “This is part of a larger strategy.”

Energy assessments are required, under the new ordinance, prior to the sale of a house or whole building of up to 25,000 square feet. The ordinance will eventually apply to all Berkeley buildings. Starting in October, those over 50,000 square feet will require an energy assessment every five years and an Energy Star performance report annually. The same rules will take effect a year later for buildings ranging from 25,000 square feet to 49,999 square feet.

The assessments will be conducted by private assessors who are registered with the city. They are supposed to include tailored recommendations on how to save energy and information on incentive programs for energy efficiency upgrades.

Generally, the Bay Area participants in the Georgetown contest were already adopting policies to reduce energy as part of their local climate action plans.

“What this is for us is it provides a bit of focus to something we’ve been doing for years,” said George Friend, chief sustainability officer of Palo Alto.

Palo Alto’s efforts are mainly aimed at promoting energy-efficiency measures in single-family homes, but last year, the city also rolled out its Multi-Family Plus program to help finance installation of attic insulation, LED lighting and other retrofits in multi-family properties.

In Berkeley, the Building Energy Savings Ordinance is at the heart of the city’s climate action plan and of its plan for the competition.

While requiring energy assessments, Berkeley is also directing property owners to programs to help finance energy retrofits, such as the Program Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program.

San Mateo, as part of its climate action plan, had considered a proposal that would have required multi-family housing developments of at least 20 units to obtain at least 50 percent of their energy from on-site renewable energy systems.

The proposal, included in San Mateo’s 2014 plan for the Georgetown contest, was not enacted. But San Mateo officials are now studying an alternative proposal that would require solar systems for all buildings, without mandating a percentage of power that would come from the system, said Kathy Kleinbaum, San Mateo’s sustainability manager.

The proposal may go before the San Mateo City Council this summer if city staff believes its cost would be feasible for developers and property owners.

“If it doesn’t come back as cost-feasible, we won’t put it forward,” Kleinbaum said.

Sunnyvale, as part of its plan for the Georgetown program, is also directing residents and property owners toward the PACE program, and also promoting measures such as use of florescent or LED lighting and smart power strips.

Fremont is promoting financing programs offered by organizations including PG&E, the East Bay Energy Watch Partnership and the Bay Area Regional Energy Network to help residents pay for home energy efficiency improvements, and Energy Upgrade California’s Home Energy Analyzer Web application to help residents find potential energy savings.

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