In most industries, it costs less per unit to produce greater quantities of a product (economies of scale). But with energy, the reverse is true. That’s why investing in conservation at the consumer level is a prudent way for governments to reduce energy use and save users money. Not only is efficiency more effective for ratepayers and taxpayers than building new power plants, even ones using renewable sources, it’s also better for the environment in many respects.
DC’s growing population means its rate of energy use is forecast to rise in the coming years. That’s why the DC Council created the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DC SEU) in 2008. It helps residents and businesses make meaningful gains in energy efficiency, a task as which it has been quite successful. It and similar programs are needed if the city is to achieve Mayor Gray’s goal of cutting the District’s energy use in half by 2032, part of his Sustainable DC Initiative.
Created by the DC Council’s Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008, the DC SEU, a nonprofit organization under contract to the District Department of the Environment (DDOE), is dedicated to reducing the District’s energy footprint to keep rates low for all businesses and residents. Through a surcharge on their electricity and natural gas bills, DC ratepayers are funding DC SEU energy efficiency programs that they can take advantage of to reduce energy costs in their homes or businesses.
The DC SEU calls itself a power plant made not of concrete and smokestacks, but of people. It assists DC residents and businesses in reducing their electricity and natural gas bills through a variety of initiatives, such as offering reduced-price compact fluorescent light bulbs, handing out rebates for energy-efficient appliances, installing better insulation and duct sealing in homes, providing incentives and technical assistance for large-scale commercial properties, and giving commercial customers rebates for energy-efficient commercial equipment and lighting.
The DC SEU is the only energy efficiency utility in the country that measures success with both energy savings and economic development goals. While other states, including Vermont, Ohio, and Delaware have such utilities, and many states have energy efficiency programs, the DC SEU’s mandate extends beyond reducing electricity and natural gas consumption. It is tasked with creating green jobs for District residents (each of its employees lives in DC), allocating 30% of its annual project budget to programs that serve low-income residents, and working with local Certified Business Enterprises (CBEs).
In 2012, it served 18,795 households in 2012 (60% of these being low-income households) and spent $5.2 million with locally-owned CBEs. Its customers saved a total of almost $3 million annually in energy costs while its efficiency measures produce lifetime economic benefits of almost $24 million, the DC SEU claims.
Commercial and industrial buildings are the city’s largest energy users. Soon, energy and water use information for all buildings with more than than 100,000 gross square feet will be made public in compliance with the DDOE’s benchmarking regulation that went into effect this January. This wealth of public data will increase transparency in the market and provide a more complete picture of DC buildings’ energy, water, and carbon footprints than has ever been produced, and will reflect change over time as efficiency measures are implemented.
DC has assessed the energy and water use and carbon emissions of every District-owned building every year since 2009, but this is the first year that private owners of commercial buildings larger than 100,000 square feet are required to benchmark and report to DDOE—the deadline for submitting their assessments was Monday, April 1. By next year, the requirement will extend to all commercial and multifamily residential buildings that are 50,000 square feet or larger. For the past two years, the DC SEU has provided a Benchmarking Help Center assist owners of large buildings assess and report energy and water use.
The Help Center has fielded more questions about medical offices and small retail outlets in multifamily apartment buildings and condominiums than expected. “We walk by these buildings every day, but we don’t think about how they operate – how much energy or water they use or what’s inside,” says Help Center spokesperson John Andreoni. “Through the release of benchmarked and reported data, we’ll gain access to this information.”
Armed with more public data on District building’s electricity, water, and gas use than has ever been amassed in one place, the DC SEU will have more information at hand to shrink the District’s resource consumption and encourage building owners and managers to embrace energy efficiency—trimming the city’s environmental footprint and keeping costs low for all District ratepayers.
Thanks to the DC SEU’s Hanna Grene for her assistance with this post.