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Energy Efficiency on stage at the Sustainability Summit

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/28/11 @ 2:49pm

How are we progressing now that we're nearing the end of Cleveland's Year of Energy Efficiency? How are trends in energy efficiency shaping up nationally?

Last week's Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit invited leaders of high-profile Cleveland energy efficiency projects and national stage speakers like Gil Sperling from the Department of Energy to offer their perspective on the value of energy efficiency investments.

"(The U.S.) is wasting two hundred and fifty billion dollars," Sperling said. "If we got a 20% reduction in what's going up the smokestack, out the window, out the door, that's money you can use to pay for your kid's college. It's billions of dollars of non-productive expenditure.

"You heard about the controversy over the Stimulus? We can have repeating Stimulus just by putting money back in your pocket with energy efficiency."

"There's no question achieving that will come with costs," he continued. "It's going to take a $670 billion investment to transform the built environment. This is an enormous sum of money. Look at that number. There is not enough rate payer money that will cover that amount. We can't take it from public resources. This is all about including the private sector to make investments in energy efficiency wisely, to leverage private capital. We have rebates and incentives, but it's not going to get us there ? it won't pay for (upfront) labor and materials. We need to get smarter."

The Obama Administration is trying to stimulate programs that attract public-private investments. The type of programs that meet people where they live, and gives them an easy option for reducing their utility cost.

"What is the consumer relationship with energy? Primarily it's through your utility company," Sperling explains. "Portland is working on putting the cost of energy efficiency retrofits right on the bill. It will show the before and after benefit. We find that when the utility is involved, it drives much stronger consumer demand.

What will shift the attitudes of the investor-owned utilities so that their business model can protect investors and make money with energy efficiency? Sperling wondered.

Seattle is entering into long-term agreements with renters with a city power purchase agreement. The city is floating a bond issue to pay for residential energy retrofit work, and with cooperation of their utility, they'll have on-bill financing, Sperling said.

"The Northwest sees so much value in its natural resources. I think Cleveland should be doing the same thing. You have a city-owned utility."

Cleveland is committed to 25% of the power produced by a proposed Lake Erie Wind Turbine Farm (but, as today's Sound of Ideas reported, the $150 million for five phase I turbines has not been secured).

The Lake Erie wind farm isn't the only transformative project waiting in the wings for regulatory approval and financing. If Congress agrees to PACE reform, Ohio is poised to offer on-bill financing of energy efficiency for homes. The Northeast Ohio Advanced Energy Special Improvement District is looking for a finance mechanism for commercial energy retrofits.

And, unlike Seattle and Portland which have already invested their federal Stimulus Energy Efficiency Block Grants, Cleveland is still at square one with its model Energy Saver project to retrofit 100 homes.

Meanwhile, a few local nonprofits are working on inspired visions for energy efficiency through "passive" and "deep energy retrofit" pilot projects, some of which were on the Summit's panel.

It helps to have goals, Sperling said, like the businesses and cities who signed up for Obama's Better Building Challenge and set a goal of 20% energy reduction by 2020.

"It's easy to do in L.A. where it's tremendously hot and energy is part of the day to day, but harder to do it here where there are tremendous economic pressures," he concluded, "where you are a coal and nuclear consuming state and not a state known for energy efficiency.

"But to move building retrofits in a community like Cleveland; to reduce consumption by 20% by 2020 would be a huge signal for the country. You will become an example because let's face it, we're concerned about the environment, but if its about jobs, if we can create five million jobs in the energy efficiency retrofit workforce, tell me what it will do for our economy."

Energy efficiency cannot be exported away from Cleveland

The Cleveland Clinic's commitment to the Better Building Initiative and to EnergyStar has led to a 20% reduction in the hospital giant's energy use ?their reasons for doing it are wide ranging.

"Ignoring energy efficiency is ignoring the health of the community," said John D'Angelo, facilities director at The Cleveland Clinic. "As proud as I am of a 20% reduction, we put a high level of effort around patient comfort. Our high efficiency lighting reduced HVAC loads while improving overall patient safety and experience."

There is a bottom line benefit, too. The Clinic spends $1.73 a second in energy. A 20% decrease over the last four years saved it $19 million.

"We don't want to pay energy bills, we want to treat patients," D'Angelo said. "We know that we can expand that message, encouraging employees to use residential energy efficiency. Cleveland is where we live and where we're raising our families. Sustainable Cleveland will allow my kids to raise a family here as well."

David Beach talked about the important of demonstrating quantum leaps of energy efficiency with the 90% reduction in heating and cooling energy promised in the SmartHome currently on exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

"Scientists are saying we really need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 90% to avoid the worst impact of climate change. A well built environment -- in Europe, tens of thousands of buildings meet the passive house standard -- puts us on the path."

Beach noted that a 2019 Work Group has formed to address the Architecture 2030 challenge. He also noted how the SmartHome is inspiring more local passive home development. "It's spreading. To Detroit-Shoreway who wants to build a smaller passive house. The Near West Theater wants to incorporate passive design into its redevelopment in Gordon Square. And a Cleveland Heights home (being built by Linda Butler) is learning from us with their passive home building project."

Fortune 500 company RPM, which includes Tremco, decided it needed to walk the talk. With annual billings of $1.5 billion in building technologies such as roofing, moisture and air control, it looked at its 40 year old building in Beachwood as a liability, said Randy Korach.

"Here we are a progressive company talking about how to improve performance and living in a building that's consuming way too much energy, is drafty, of questionable air quality and not attractive to look like," he said. "With our redesign, we felt very strongly a principal obligation to the community and to not leave behind problems."

Just some of the impressive green and energy retrofit investments they made in their $5.5 million green retrofit:

  • Four different sustainable roofing materials, including a beautiful vegetative roof
  • Reflective, high-performance windows
  • A 16,000 gallon water retention system ("We draw no water from public sources").
  • New, high efficiency lighting
  • New chillers and high efficiency HVAC system ("The impact we're tracking is an 80% reduction in natural gas")
  • Zero waste ("We sent nothing to landfill. We had 2 millions tons of construction waste on the project all diverted for reuse except for 1,200 lbs which was incinerated for fuel).

Deepa Vedavayas, director of Buckeye Development Corp. announced that 21 businesses in Buckeye took advantage of free energy audits from COSE and energy grants from DOE.

"The champions are our merchants," she said. After the audit, we had an additional grant where 25 merchants were offered 30% rebates in retrofitting. They didn't stop with the audit. Some took it beyond and leveraged up to $9,000 to complete the retrofit. That was very impressive both because it's the first time they were presented with this opportunity but also because the economy hit pretty hard in Buckeye."

Afterwards, Generation Foundation supported their membership in the Green Plus program which provides a mentor and "a way to go above and beyond for green business."

Vedevayas thinks government plays a role in leveraging this level of private investment.

"I would like to have the state set up grants and incentives to green a retail district, for store owners to have the support they need ? and a platform for sharing success stories."

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