The City Energy Project Surges Ahead

If the future of clean energy and energy efficiency seems less than rosy at the national level, it’s a pleasure to relay some great news from America’s cities. In the past few months, they have made remarkable progress on energy efficiency policy and set the stage for considerably more, largely through the City Energy Project (CEP).

A joint initiative of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), the City Energy Project1 was created in 2013 to help major American cities develop and implement comprehensive energy efficiency strategies much like those pioneered in New York City under Mayor Bloomberg. Those strategies included mandatory benchmarking, audit, and retro-commissioning policies for large buildings, and aggressive municipal reductions, carbon challenges, financing, and other programs. (Full disclosure: I helped develop the City Energy Project and many of the NYC strategies.)

CEP’s foundational premise is that sustainability-focused, highly resourced cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Seattle make a great contribution by leading the way on energy efficiency policies, but creating substantial impact will require adoption well beyond those markets. CEP provides assistance throughout the full range of cities, including smaller, less wealthy ones and those in the south and mid-west.

The first batch of ten CEP cities included Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City MO, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City—a great mix of city sizes, types and regions. Within a six-day period last month (and after years of focus groups and negotiations), three of those cities—Denver, Los Angeles, and Orlando—passed energy efficiency ordinances that together impact 18,000 buildings with a combined area of 1.4 billion square feet. Here’s the blow by blow:

Dec. 14: In Orlando (pop. 255,000), the City Council unanimously passed the Building Energy and Water Efficiency Strategy which requires:

  • Annual benchmarking of energy use for private buildings larger than 50,000 square feet and public buildings larger than 10,000 square feet, and public posting of the results.
  • The requirement that benchmarking be provided by a “qualified benchmarker” in order to ensure accuracy.
  • A one-time requirement to perform an audit or a retro-commissioning on buildings that are below the national average Energy Star score of 50.

Dec. 15: Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles (pop. 3,884,000) signed into law the Existing Building Energy and Water Efficiency Program, which had been approved unanimously by City Council two days before. Hilary Firestone, the CEP advisor to LA, (formerly Hilary Beber, advisor in the NYC Mayor’s Office) was instrumental in developing and negotiating the ordinance. Covering the nation’s second largest city, it breaks new ground by requiring that water systems as well as energy systems be both audited and retro-commissioned2, given the importance of reducing water use in Southern California. It requires:

  • Annual benchmarking of energy and water use for private buildings larger than 20,000 square feet and public buildings larger than 7,500 square feet, and public posting of the results.
  • Energy and water audits and retro-commissioning every 5 years for private buildings larger than 20,000 square feet and public buildings larger than 15,000 square feet.

Dec. 19: In Denver (pop. 650,000) the City Council unanimously passed the Energize Denver Ordinance requiring:

  • Annual benchmarking of energy use for private and public buildings larger than 25,000 square feet and public posting of the results.

This means that eight out of the first ten CEP cities have now passed benchmarking ordinances, with four also requiring audits and/or retro-commissioning and five requiring the benchmarking of water use as well as energy.

And that’s just the beginning. In November 2016, a second group of CEP cities, covering every region of the country, was announced, with all ten committed to instituting comprehensive energy efficiency policies. The cities are: Des Moines, Fort Collins, Miami-Dade County, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Providence, Reno, San Jose, St. Louis, and St. Paul. The map below shows where all 20 CEP cities are located. 

City Energy Project cities

But wait, there’s more! CEP cities are not the only ones who have passed benchmarking ordinances. Tune in for our upcoming blog covering the state of local benchmarking legislation in America. 


1The City Energy Project is jointly funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Kresge Foundation.

2Atlanta requires audits of water systems, but not retro-commissioning.

About the author

Laurie Kerr
Laurie Kerr, FAIA, LEED AP is the Director of Policy at Urban Green Council.