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Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency means using less energy than previously used while still providing the same level of energy service. While energy efficiency is closely related to energy conservation, the two terms are different. Energy conservation is any behavior that uses less energy, such as turning off lights, while energy efficiency refers to performing the same tasks, but using more efficient approaches, such as using compact fluorescent lights instead of incandescent bulbs. Both energy efficiency and conservation are important considerations given the fact that the choices we make about how we use energy impact the environment and our lives. By embracing energy efficiency and using conservation techniques, municipalities can minimize their total energy demand, thereby saving money while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Only after energy efficiency and conservation have been employed, should a municipality explore clean energy installation options. 

Getting Started

Assessing Baseline Energy Use

The first step to embracing energy efficiency is to understand your baseline energy performance. Assessing baseline energy use allows for the identification of areas of operation that are wasting energy and allows one to target limited financial resources towards priority areas. Additionally, an energy assessment provides a baseline against which one can demonstrate progress towards achieving energy goals.

An energy assessment, inventory and/or audit can be conducted using a variety of tools:

  • ICLEI’s Clean Air and Climate Protection software: The CACP software allows local government to assess the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with local government and community-wide operations. Sectors analyzed on the local government side include: buildings/facilities, vehicle fleet, waste, wastewater treatment, employee commute, street and traffic signals, and port and airport facilities.
  • EPA’s Portfolio Manager: Tool that allows users to evaluate building energy performance and receive a score that compares how efficient a given building is compared to similar types of buildings in similar geographical areas.
  • Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Energy Audit Program: An assistance program for cities, towns, regional school districts and wastewater treatment plants in Massachusetts that provides applicants with a benchmark of all buildings that are owned and operated by the municipally and a detailed energy audit of all buildings identified as “bad energy performers”.

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Types of Energy Efficiency Activities

After establishing a baseline of energy performance and identifying under-performing areas, your local government is ready to implement energy efficiency efforts. There are many actions local governments can take to conserve energy and become more energy efficient. Listed below are types of measures that will help to increase your efficiency:

  • Improve lighting efficiency (e.g., switching to fluorescent lights such as compact fluorescent lights and T-8s)
  • Choose energy-efficient equipment and appliances (e.g., ENERGY STAR and EPEAT certified electronics)
  • Make building improvements that increase energy efficiency (e.g., install occupancy sensors, energy efficient windows and doors, and undertake weatherization)
  • Improve heating and cooling efficiency (e.g., install programmable thermostats, replace and/or clean furnace and air filters)
  • Utilize more efficient transportation (e.g., hybrids/more fuel efficient vehicles, alternative fuels, parking cash-out, and employee commute programs)
  • Conserve water (e.g., install low-flow toilets, utilize gray water systems)
  • If feasible, update building codes to promote efficient buildings (e.g., ENERGY STAR, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), or Home Energy Rating System (HERS))
  • Improve operations and maintenance (e.g., ensure your buildings are being operated and maintained appropriately)

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  • Cambridge, MA: In 2004, the City of Cambridge renovated its City Hall Annex to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)’s Gold Standard. Cambridge received a grant from the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust to finance the building’s clean energy features.
  • Cambridge, MA also launched Cambridge GreenSense in October 2008, an internal program designed to encourage municipal employees to reduce energy use at work by adopting some basic, commonsense conservation practices.  In the first three months city employees helped reduce electric usage in 36 municipal buildings by 10% compared with the same period the previous year. The total amount of electricity saved during the first three months is enough to power 14 homes or five Cambridge fire stations for a full year.
  • Winchester, MA:  Through the Energy Management Committee, which has representatives from all town departments, an Energy Management Policy was created with a goal to reduce energy use in town operations by 10%. The plan included guidelines for heating and cooling, efficient use of space, and computer management policies.  As a result, the Town decreased energy usage by 14% and is saving $300,000 annually.

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There are many places local governments can look to find information about energy efficiency programs. Below are a few resources that offer information about financing efficiency, residential and business programs and resources specific to local governments.


Government Resources

  • Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources: Provides information about energy efficiency programs and initiatives offered to residential and businesses/non-profits in Massachusetts; includes rebates, incentives, loan information and regulatory proceedings.
  • US Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE): EERE sponsors various initiatives to build awareness about energy efficiency and renewable energy topics and to coordinate efforts toward specific energy efficiency goals.
  • US EPA
    1. Energy Efficiency: Provides information on EPA’s clean energy programs, ENERGY STAR efforts, the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool, and much more.
    2. Improving Energy Efficiency: Provides tips and steps to maximize a buildings energy performance. 
    3. ENERGY STAR for Local Governments: Provides guidance on energy efficiency efforts specifically tailored for local governments, including information on structuring an energy efficiency initiative, financing efficiency efforts, and promoting your successes.


Utility Programs

Utility Loan Program: Some utilities offer low or zero interest loans for the installation of energy efficient items, such as appliances, insulation, lighting, and HVAC systems.

Utility Rebate Program: Some utilities provide incentives and rebates to customers who have purchased energy efficient technologies, such as appliances, lighting, and cooling systems.

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Fact Sheets and Case Studies

  • Improving Energy Efficiency in County Buildings: Provided by the National Association of Counties, this guide for energy efficiency in county facilities, based on EPA’s Guidelines for Energy Management, leads counties through detailed steps and resources to increase the energy efficiency of county buildings.
  • School Operations & Maintenance: Best Practices for Controlling Energy Costs: This guidebook is designed for school district staff interested in integrating energy efficiency into school building operation and maintenance. The guidebooks provides technical information on barriers, challenges, and the necessary steps required to develop an energy management program within the school district organizational structure.


Other Resources

  • Energy Education: Energy Education, an Energy STAR partner, helps universities, colleges, K-12 schools, and large churches develop energy conservation plans.
  • ICLEI’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guide: This online guidebook contains information about purchasing goods and services that are both environmentally friendly and that reduce energy consumption.
  • ICLEI's Profiting from Energy Efficiency Guide: Online guidebook that address an array of energy efficiency issues such as why to invest in energy efficiency and how to finance energy efficiency measures.
  • National Association of Counties (NACo)Green Government Initiative: Launched in 2007, the NACo Green Government Initiative provides comprehensive resources for local governments on all things green, including energy, air quality, transportation, water quality, land use, purchasing and recycling.
  • Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership (NEEP): NEEP works to promote the efficient use of energy in homes, buildings and industry in the Northeast U.S. through regionally coordinated programs and policies that increase the use of energy efficient products, services and practices, and that help achieve a cleaner environment and a more reliable and affordable energy system.
  • NYCWasteLe$$: A list of tips for how government agencies, buildings, and schools can be more energy efficient.  Also includes links to local government case studies.
  • Smart Communities Network: This online toolkit provides guidance on implementing a municipal energy program, including financing resources, case studies, and sample ordinances.

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ICLEI's Municipal Clean Energy Toolkit was generously funded by the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust.