Energy is a topic that intersects with many other components of a community’s comprehensive plan. One of the key takeaways from our experience developing local community energy plans is that energy is a topic best discussed and implemented in the course of drafting or updating a comprehensive plan. Energy is a key part of developing strategies for housing, transportation, community facilities and services, economic development, and natural systems. Energy is best used as a lens that a community uses to inform and enhance their strategies on a variety of fronts.

  • Topics to be addressed related to Energy:
    • Facilities and municipal energy use
    • The resiliency of energy systems serving the community
    • The effect of development patterns and transportation choice on energy use
    • The energy efficiency of building stock within the community
    • Equity of access to energy efficient housing and incentives used to improve energy efficiency
    • The ability of existing energy capacities to meet anticipated future demands based on projected land use
    • Improve access to, and the use of, renewable and/or cleaner sources of energy
    • Inventory of energy related trends, facilities, issues, needs, and opportunities in the community:
  1. Develop a Community Energy Baseline

It’s important to first establish an energy baseline for two reasons. First is to get a handle on how energy is being used in the community, and second is to be able to measure improvement over time. The baseline can include any of the following measurements:

  • Community energy use data from the utility company
  • Public facility energy use data from the municipal energy bills. Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager tool can make tracking energy use and identifying sources of potential savings easier.
  • Transportation energy use, using means of commuting to work from census data and areas of significant traffic congestion from OKI
  • Number and distribution of dwelling units by type, size, age, and predominant types of construction

2. Address Resiliency

Engage public safety administrators and utility representatives to identify essential facilities and infrastructure, along with facilities and network components which are most at risk during a community-wide emergency. It’s essential that community emergency management plans and teams include energy infrastructure and utility personnel.

3. Renewable Energy

Assess the presence of renewable and/or clean sources of energy technology within the community using the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) map tool.

Assess the regulations and policies affecting the use of renewable and/or clean sources of energy technology within the community. Use the best practices found on OKI’s Solar Ready page to evaluate your community’s regulations and review procedures for solar energy.

4. Energy Burden

Investigate the impact of energy burden in the community. Energy burden is calculated by dividing the net cost of household energy (available from the utility) by total household income. This is done at a sub-level of the community, like a census block group or zip code. The results are mapped to identify areas where energy burden is most prevalent.

There are two key drivers of energy burden: building stock that is old, inefficient, and poorly maintained; and low household incomes. Areas that are identified as having elevated rates of energy burden should be checked against areas with older housing, poorly maintained housing, and areas experiencing low incomes and poverty. Usually it is both factors working in concert, like a double-whammy driving disparities in energy burden in the community. Households with the lowest incomes predominantly live in the oldest, and least energy-efficient housing. Areas suffering from elevated poverty rates also tend to lack investment in its building stock.

The key to addressing energy burden is to promote energy efficient improvements in the building stock that is targeted to the homes of residents who are lower income, both owner and renter occupied.

5. Urban Heat Island Effect

Use OKI’s Urban Heat Island Map tool to map areas most impacted by the urban heat island effect.

Urban heat islands impact energy use because they prevent the affected areas from cooling off at night during the summer. This requires air conditioning to run harder and longer to cool buildings in the area. Consequently, the additional air conditioning also adds to the latent heat in the air. Areas with concentrated or large asphalt surfaces and buildings with large areas under roof, like warehouses, are prone to see increased effects of urban heat islands. Neighborhoods that lack tree canopy also see increased impacts from heat islands.

Heat islands can be mitigated by increasing the tree canopy and using light-colored building materials in affected areas. Zoning regulations should require developers building parking areas to provide regularly-spaced trees in and around the parking lot.