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The Steel City forges a sustainable path with 100% renewable electricity.

Tucked in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, the grand neoclassical City-County Building is the seat of government and home to the Office of Sustainability and Resilience.

Grant Ervin, the Chief Resilience Officer, heads up the team working to deliver on climate action and resilience goals across city government by targeting electricity. In 2018, the Pittsburgh City Council approved plans to cut energy consumption by 50 percent and achieve 100 percent renewable electricity.

Ervin says, "We also have big visions for how we can accomplish that for the entire City of Pittsburgh."

 

Pittsburgh, PA

 

 

Strength in numbers — The Western Pennsylvania Energy Consortium

To achieve these big energy dreams, Pittsburgh's Office of Sustainability and Resilience works with a host of local government partners as part of the Western Pennsylvania Energy Consortium (WPEC). The consortium got its start ten years ago when the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority joined forces to create an aggregated buying platform with the idea that WPEC has greater purchasing power together than they do apart.

"It's much cheaper buying the wholesale price than the retail price. We've been able to pull that purchasing power together to help reduce our energy spend," Ervin notes.

The consortium is a diverse group of buyers with varying total power usage and savings. However, all members are public benefit organizations like the Urban Redevelopment Authority or nonprofits like the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

"These are entities that are here to provide service and benefit to the citizens of Pittsburgh. To the extent that we can help them match their energy sources with their mission, that's a big win. We just saved almost $700,000 through our Direct Energy Business contract extension across the membership."

When Pittsburgh passes big energy savings on, WPEC members pay it forward through the services and resources they provide to people across Western Pennsylvania. The city can also recycle savings back into building improvements and service delivery enhancements for government employees and Pittsburgh residents.

 

From 35 percent to 100 percent renewable energy

Along with big savings, their newest energy contract helped the city and WPEC members become more sustainable. Until this year, 35 percent of their portfolio was renewable energy credits (RECs). Now through their most recent agreement with Direct Energy Renewable Services, they extended a low price and 100 percent RECs throughout the city’s entire portfolio.

"It's being prepared and being ready and able to act, but it's also having the right team around you that's able to put those puzzle pieces together. When you match your ethos with your buying practices, these are the types of results you yield."

 

renewable resources

 

 

Energy and the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan

Pittsburgh's Climate Action plan has six chapters, including energy. To better understand the impact of energy consumption on the local environment, the Office of Sustainability and Resilience took an inventory of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Climate and Energy Planner, Sarah Yeager, played a critical role in developing GHG inventories. When you combine the power use of residential, commercial and industrial buildings, energy is almost 80 percent of Pittsburgh’s entire emissions footprint. The remainder includes about 18 percent from the transportation system and two percent from waste.

Due to their concurrent goals of 100 percent renewable energy and 50 percent use reduction, Pittsburgh is trying to create an equilibrium between the amount of energy it sources and the amount of energy it consumes. Ultimately, the city wants to maintain this balance between supply and demand as they strive to lower usage over time.

 

The role of efficiency

Between 2015 and 2016, the city passed the Pittsburgh Energy Benchmarking and Disclosure Ordinance. City of Pittsburgh Energy Advisor, Flore Marion, oversees this ordinance that requires all municipal partners and commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet to report their energy consumption to the city.

Collecting data allowed Pittsburgh to start modelling consumption information and identify opportunities to make strategic efficiency decisions like implementing demand response.

"Good data leads to good decisions to support energy efficiency," Ervin says.

To cut consumption, Pittsburgh modeled the most critical projects and began with its largest energy consumers. City Hall, streetlights and a couple of key warehouses make up 40 to 45 percent of the total consumption footprint.

 


"By making a couple strategic investments in terms of energy efficiency and lighting in particular, we can help optimize and create about 40 percent efficiency reduction of the capacity in our portfolio."


 

The role of the built environment

Pittsburgh's largest energy consumers and many members of the energy consortium are in the city's dense urban core - places like Downtown, Uptown, Oakland and the North Shore. These are the operational areas the city targets to meet its usage goals.

In 2019, the city's work with the Green Building Alliance, the City of Aarhus and the Trade Council of Denmark was recognized by the United Nations, which designated Pittsburgh as a Center of Excellence for High Performance Building.

The city is also part of the 2030 Districts Network, a global initiative for building owners and managers to cut energy use, water consumption and transportation emissions in half by 2030. Pittsburgh leads the 22 international 2030 Districts with 86.3 million square feet committed and has collectively saved $154.5M in energy and water costs since 2012.

 

Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh 2030 District map from https://www.2030districts.org/pittsburgh

 

"Pittsburgh is the largest of the 2030 Districts by square footage in the world. We have voluntary participation of about 60 percent of the commercial building owners in downtown, the North Shore and Oakland that are reporting their energy consumption, and then actively working to be more efficient and reduce that consumption by the year 2030," explains Ervin.

Renewable and efficiency solutions like Pittsburgh's are vital to realizing the 2030 vision of transforming building districts and cities for a more sustainable future.

 

Renewable energy credits and the next energy frontier

RECs allowed Pittsburgh to achieve its 100 percent renewable energy target. In the future, the Office of Sustainability and Resilience also wants to expand the renewable economy in Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania.

"One of the big things that the mayor talks about is the Marshall Plan for middle America. How do you invest in the places like the industrial heartland that built America in the past? The opportunity to rebuild and retool our energy economy really can exist in our backyard," Ervin says

The city is beginning to scope solar, wind and hydro projects downtown and across the region to bring renewable assets closer to home, boost the economy, improve air quality and cut back emissions.

 

renewable wind power

 

 

Grow WPEC and invest in more alternative energy

In the coming years, Pittsburgh aspires to expand the energy consortium with government entities, universities and nonprofit partners that share the same vision for the Climate Action Plan. Ervin hopes that growing membership will create opportunities for more renewable assets like small district-scale applications, onsite projects or solar and wind farms to be deployed locally.

Leading renewable energy states like New York, Massachusetts and California are investing in clean technology and creating community solar and other collective energy solutions. Cities like Cincinnati are using municipal source aggregation to include residential customers in the energy transition and reduce costs.

"These are things that we're looking at as best practices that we'd like to replicate here in Pennsylvania and Southwestern Pennsylvania that can allow us to expand our energy consortium reach to supply, say, residential customers."

Procuring 100 percent renewable energy credits for their portfolio with Direct Energy Renewable Services yielded significant savings for both Pittsburgh and its energy consortium members. Likewise, the same WPEC philosophy of pulling together buying power, reducing energy costs and spurring renewable power development could mean big things for Pennsylvanians.

"We've received overwhelming public support both from the innovation community and the buildings community. But also, environmental and economic development boosters of the city have recognized that we're stepping in the right direction."

 

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