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Energy Planning at the Local Level

In the United States, about 21 percent of all energy is used in the residential sector. That is primarily energy for heating, cooling, lighting, and utilities. The commercial sector uses another 19 percent, of which at least half is for the same items just listed. Thus, in total, at least one-third of all U.S. energy consumption can be directly affected by the actions of local government. Of course, in many cases local action will be affected by federal grants, tax credits, regulations, and the like.

Steps that a municipality can take to conserve energy can be divided into four general categories:

  • 1. Land-use planning
  • 2. Changes in building characteristics
  • 3. Changes in transportation
  • 4. Community energy sources.

TABLE 15-1 U.S. Energy Consumption and Production in Quads, 2009 and 2013

Total Consumption

Total Production

2009

2013

2009

2013

Petroleum

35

35

11

16

Natural gas

23

26

22

28

Coal

20

18

22

20

Nuclear

8

8

8

8

Hydroelectric

3

3

3

3

Renewables

5

6

5

6

Total

95

96

73

81

Note: Figures may not add up to totals due to rounding, minor adjustments, and omissions of small amounts. Renewables include geothermal, solar, wind, and biomass. Of these, biomass is the largest item. A quad is 10 to the 15th power (1,000,000,000,000,000) BTU. A BTU (British Thermal Unit) is the energy needed to raise the temperature of a pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Agency, Annual Energy Review, available at energy.gov.

Land-use planning can be used to reduce energy consumption in a variety of ways; the most obvious is by minimizing transportation requirements. One way to do this is by favoring development that reduces the average distance between the origin of a trip and the destination. However, the long-term trend in the United States, as noted in Chapter 2, has been to lower urban densities. An alternate, and probably more feasible, approach is to encourage mixed-use development. For example, mixing commercial and retailing uses with residential uses may permit shorter average commuting and shopping trips than would be the case if the three uses were strictly separated. (See neotraditional planning in Chapter 10.) Another way that land-use planning can encourage energy efficiency is by making nonautomotive modes convenient. This might mean providing separate bus lanes along major thoroughfares. In a major metropolitan area, it might mean designing major highways with a median that would be suitable for future installation of rail lines. For example, Route I-66, which extends westward from Washington, DC, was laid out in this way. In the mid- 1980s the Washington Metro was extended into adjacent parts of northern Virginia along that routing. In a smaller community, planning for energy efficiency might mean providing bikeways to separate bicycle from automotive traffic, thus eliminating a major discouragement to bicycle use. The community in the United States best known for this plan is Davis, California. There, approximately 25 percent of all passenger miles, as opposed to about 2 percent statewide, are made by bicycle. In general, land-use planning can facilitate the development of public transportation by arranging residential and nonresidential uses to reduce the "collection" and "distribution" problems noted in Chapter 12. Transit Oriented Development (TOD) discussed in Chapter 10 is one example. A community might also decrease the use of private automobiles by greater expenditures for public transportation, setting up new initiatives in public transportation such as van pooling and dial-a-ride systems, and encouraging carpooling.

Building characteristics can be altered to produce very sizable reductions in energy expenditures. In some cases these changes are closely linked to land-use planning decisions; in other cases they can be effectuated independently. A land-use plan might encourage row housing as opposed to free-standing single-family units. This choice need not mean higher density in the development but it may, for example, mean clustering, with the provision of common open space. Row or attached housing, in general, reduces energy used in heating because it reduces the amount of building surface exposed to the elements. To see this, just imagine two free-standing units moved into a side-by-side position. The two side walls that have been brought together become interior walls and can no longer conduct heat to the outside.

Siting buildings with regard to the sun will affect the ease with which sunlight can be used to supply part of the energy used for heating. Streets that run east-west facilitate placing houses so that they face south for maximum solar exposure. A number of communities have adopted solar access zoning, which prevents structures or trees from being placed in such a position that they block the direct access of other buildings to the sun.

There are also building-related steps that are unrelated to overall land- use planning. A number of communities impose minimum insulation requirements on new houses. Some municipalities have implemented programs designed to encourage property owners to retrofit old buildings. These may be limited to giving technical advice or may also include low-interest loans and other financial incentives. A few communities require that before a house can be resold it must be brought up to some minimum standard of insulation, a technique that gradually forces a retrofitting of the existing housing stock.

The number of municipalities that have "green building codes"— codes that mandate a variety of energy saving and other environmentally friendly features in new buildings—is increasing rapidly. Many municipalities now build or retrofit their own structures with energy-conserving features such as solar heating or photovoltaic panels.

 
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