Polk County schools make Lakeland look energy smart

This blog was written by John D. Wilson, former Deputy Director for Regulatory Policy at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | April 16, 2010 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy

An outstanding showing by the Polk County School District propelled Lakeland, FL to a #7 ranking on the second-annual list of top 25 cities with the most Energy Star labeled buildings. Along with four other Southeastern cities, Lakeland’s Energy Star buildings are cutting energy waste by millions of dollars (and reducing global warming pollution).

Lakeland’s dramatic rise (the city did not make the top-25 list in 2008) is almost exclusively the result of an aggressive energy management program by the School Board of Polk County’s Energy Management Division (Lakeland is located in Polk County). This program has resulted in 119 schools earning the EPA’s Energy Star symbol for energy conservation through April 2009.

Also contributing to Lakeland’s showing is the Magnify Credit Union building. The credit union is hosting a well-justified “Green Celebration” today and the entertainment is, appropriately, a band called “Think Big.” Lakeland’s ranking not only highlights the accomplishments of government and businesses in Lakeland, but also shows that cities and counties are quickly scaling up energy efficiency in difficult economic times.

The list, released last month by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, ranks cities based on the number of buildings that have attained an Energy Star label. Achieving an Energy Star label indicates the building is at least 25% more energy efficient than comparable buildings built using standard construction practices.

The collective annual cost savings of Energy Star labeled buildings in these five cities totals $48.8 million along with an estimated reduction in CO2 emission equal to more than 46,000 homes.  Nationally, nearly 3,900 commercial buildings earned the EPA’s Energy Star label in 2009, saving more than $900 million annually in utility bills and reducing annual carbon dioxide emissions by more than 4.7 million metric tons.

Polk County Schools reports that its Energy Management Program has saved taxpayers $71 million since 1991. The school district’s total square footage has increased 67% since 1991, but electricity usage has increased by less than 30%. In addition, water and gas usage has actually decreased by 24 and 30% respectively over that same time.

Four other Southeastern cities also made the list.  Considering their size, one might expect Atlanta and Miami to have a spot, which they do at #9 and #19, respectively. Charlotte at #22 and Louisville at #25 (behind a 3-way tie at #24) are also included.

Southeastern Cities Making EPA’s Top 25 List:

City 2009 Ranking Number of Energy Star Labeled Buildings Total Floorspace (million sq. ft.) Cost Savings ($millions) Emission Prevented (Equal to ___ homes electricity use) 2008 Ranking
7 120 11.5 $8.3 6,300 n/a
Atlanta 9 102 29.6 $23.9 24,000 9
Miami 19 54 12.3 $12.6 10,800 23
22 44 4.7 $2.2 2,300 18
25 35 4.2 $1.8 2,700 n/a

What would it mean to other cities across the southeast if similar commitments to energy efficiency were achieved? Lakeland’s achievement should be a challenge to Miami-Dade, Atlanta and other cities across the Southeast to see what can be accomplished.

Currently available building technologies can cut energy use in buildings by 25% or more over standard building practices.
Available technologies can cut energy use in buildings by 25% or more over standard practices.

America’s buildings use 40% of the nation’s energy, but current technologies are available to significantly reduce energy consumption in both newly built and retrofitted buildings.  EPA’s Energy Star program encourages the use of these technologies and provides assistance in identifying opportunities and measuring results.  More than 130,000 buildings have already taken advantage of the Energy Star program since its inception in 1992.

“Achieving the deep reductions in CO2 emissions that scientists tell us we must achieve to avoid the most severe consequences of climate change will require deep and relatively rapid reduction in energy use in buildings,” writes Greg Kats in a “fact- and chart-filled new book,” Greening Our Built World: Costs, Benefits and Strategies.

As the markets for energy efficiency continue to grow across the Southeast, we expect cities like Nashville, Raleigh, Orlando and others to step up their efforts and begin tapping into the Energy Star program to ensure we’re getting the most out of every kilowatt-hour of electricity.  New federal and state incentives for energy efficiency will help speed this progress, but it will also take a local commitment to the efficiency resource to make sure EPA’s 2010 list includes a greater number of southeastern cities.

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