Public Power Magazine

Omaha embraces Energy Star status


From the September 2011 issue (Vol. 69, No. 6) of Public Power

Originally published September 1, 2011

DEED
By Laurel Lundstrom
September 1, 2011
In less than three years, the number of commercial and industrial buildings in Nebraska certified by the Energy Star program increased sevenfold, largely because of a pilot program led by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD).

In less than three years, the number of commercial and industrial buildings in Nebraska certified by the Energy Star program increased sevenfold, largely because of a pilot program led by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD).

OPPD leveraged a $15,000 grant from the American Public Power Association's Demonstration of Energy-Efficient Developments program and tools and resources from the Environmental Protection Agency to fast-track Energy Star certifications. In 2008, when OPPD launched the initiative, Nebraska had only nine Energy Star buildings, compared with more than 5,000 nationally. Today, 64 buildings have been certified, including 39 in OPPD's service territory.

The Energy Star program, managed jointly by the EPA and the Department of Energy, inspires organizations to make building enhancements to improve energy efficiency and awards certification to buildings that serve as models. OPPD is an official Energy Star partner and recently became the only utility to earn leadership status.

According to the Energy Star program, commercial buildings and manufacturing plants account for nearly half of all U.S. energy consumption, and energy usage at these buildings costs more than $200 billion each year.

By using around 35 percent less energy than similar, uncertified buildings, Energy Star buildings can help to substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions and costs. Through the pilot program, OPPD sought to increase the number of Energy Star buildings in its service area and across the state to decrease demand, particularly during peak times.

"The more that we can reduce demand, the more we can put off building new plants," said Judy Sunde, OPPD's project manager for market strategies. "This fits in very well with servicing needs of energy efficiency and meeting the needs of customers."

OPPD accessed free tools, training materials, and consultation opportunities through the EPA's website. ICF International, also an Energy Star partner, supported OPPD as it trained commercial and industrial customers to use Portfolio Manager, a Web-based tool that benchmarks energy usage. To achieve Energy Star certification, Portfolio Manager must show that a building earns a score of 75 or greater on a scale of one to 100 when measured against similar buildings nationwide.

Once a score of 75 was achieved, OPPD worked with its customers on the additional review, engineering, and application needed to attain certification. This included subsidizing the cost of having their score validated by a professional engineer. For those that scored less than 75, OPPD led an "Energy Star Challenge," working with customers to make energy-efficiency plans and evaluate energy-efficiency opportunities.

"We wanted to get consumers interested in rating themselves and then expand that to increasing scores," said Sunde.

By the end of the project in June 2010, 865 buildings had their energy usage benchmarked, up from 267 buildings at the start of the project.

During the course of the grant period, OPPD conducted six Energy Star Challenge Roundtables, open forums that joined those with certified buildings with others interested in improving energy efficiency. Participants discussed how to benchmark energy usage, qualify for an Energy Star award, and make buildings more efficient.

Beyond its immediate goal of reducing demand and cutting costs through new certifications and energy-efficiency measures, OPPD helped to develop a complementary curriculum that became a class at a local community college.  This curriculum is now available to schools worldwide through the Energy Star website. Topics include energy-efficiency best practices, ways to engage employees to help save energy, and tracking energy savings and greenhouse emissions reductions over time. Students also learn how to use Energy Star tools, such as Portfolio Manager.

OPPD's collaboration with the Building Owners and Managers Association of Omaha and the University of Nebraska at Omaha led to the inclusion of similar topics in a real estate class offered at that university.

By attending one of OPPD's Portfolio Manager training sessions, Verdis, a consulting company that works with Omaha's public school districts, learned about the Energy Star program, particularly Portfolio Manager. This partnership resulted in all of Omaha's public schools being benchmarked. The Nebraska Energy Office recently issued a request for proposals to companies interested in benchmarking the rest of the state's public schools.

OPPD believes the program would be easily transferable to other utilities.

"There are really no start-up costs," said Sunde. "Portfolio Manager being free and all the materials you can get from the EPA website are huge assets."

Although funding for the program ended last year, the utility continues to hold Energy Star roundtables and Portfolio Manager training sessions.

According to a final report from the project "embracing Energy Star will keep OPPD on top of energy-efficiency opportunities, while greatly enhancing customer partnerships in energy efficiency."

APPA will hold a webinar on Sept. 2, which includes a presentation from OPPD, to inform other public power utilities about the program. The webinar can be accessed at: www.appaacademy.org.


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September 2011
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