Though legislation to promote energy efficiency remains in a holding pattern in the U.S. Senate, there was a glimmer of good news on American cities' efforts to achieve energy savings on their own.
According to a new ranking by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, many of the nation's cities are instituting a variety of energy-saving measures such as requiring more efficient building designs, building electric vehicle charging stations, and promoting bike sharing. (See related story: "Bike-Share Schemes Shift Into High Gear.")
Boston achieved the highest score overall, with 76.75 out of a possible 100 points on a scorecard devised by ACEEE, on which cities received points for their energy-saving initiatives. Portland, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Austin also received scores of more than 60 points. (Here's a graphic showing some of the cities' scores in specific areas.)
City Strides on Energy Use
"I always believed that mayors have a responsibility to push the envelope on reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in a phone conference that unveiled ACEEE's findings. In 2009, Menino created the Renew Boston initiative, which set a goal of cutting the city's electricity consumption by 200 megawatts—enough to power 92,000 homes—and reducing greenhouse gases by more than 70 percent by 2050.
To further those goals, in June Menino unveiled a new program to help residents make energy-saving improvements in their homes. The city is offering up to $3,000 per home in subsidies for upgrading insulation and as much as $250 to defray the cost of replacing obsolete, energy-wasting wiring. Boston also has negotiated bulk pricing for residential solar panels, and gives residents' homes free evaluations to identify problem areas that are causing energy waste and raising their utility costs. (See related story: "IEA Report Offers Prescription to Ease Urban Transit Congestion.")
"My own house has solar panels," Menino noted. "It saves me on electric bills."
ACEEE graded 34 cities for their efforts in five areas: buildings, transportation, energy and water utility programs, local government operations, and community-wide initiatives. (See related story: "Bikes and Buses Propel Mexico City to Sustainable Transport Award.")
The cities' leap forward in energy-efficiency efforts has been a stark contrast to the slow movement on Capitol Hill, where the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013, authored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has been struggling to move forward.
The bill, which is summarized here, would require the federal government—the nation's single largest energy consumer—to update government buildings to improve energy efficiency, institute electricity-saving measures for government computers, and make it easier for agencies to switch to electric and natural-gas-powered vehicles. It also would provide training for workers in how to build more energy-efficient buildings for the private sector, and help finance private-sector renovations for energy efficiency. (See related quiz: "What You Don't Know About Energy-Efficient Lighting.")
Bipartisan Support for Efficiency
The Shaheen-Portman bill is supported by President Obama and an unusual alliance of environmental and business groups. In an email, Elgie Holstein, Environmental Defense Fund's senior director for strategic planning, wrote, "This common-sense piece of legislation is good for people, business and the environment."
Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, was similarly effusive. "As users of one-third of our nation's energy, manufacturers are directly affected by the cost of energy, and we believe policies should promote research, development and deployment of energy-efficient technologies," he said in a statement. "Manufacturers support the Shaheen-Portman bill, a set of common-sense, bipartisan energy-efficiency measures that would create jobs by saving energy in industrial, commercial and residential sectors." (See related quiz: "What You Don't Know About Cities and Energy.")
The bill was approved by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in May. The Hill reported Tuesday that progress had been held up by Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana), who has attempted to attach an unrelated amendment about Obamacare on which he is seeking a vote. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) told the newspaper that he was willing to allow a vote on Vitter's amendment, but that he wanted to ensure that other senators wouldn't tack on additional unrelated amendments as well. A Shaheen staffer told National Geographic News late Tuesday afternoon that the amendments problem was still under negotiation.
EDF's Holstein urged the Senate to "defeat any amendments that would undermine our nation's transition to a cleaner, more secure energy future." (See related blog post: "Green Fridays, Smart Lighting and More: How National Geographic Cuts Its Energy Use.")