Energy savings at the Cleveland Clinic free up resources for patient care. (Photo by Steve Grant via Creative Commons)

Cleveland steps up on energy efficiency challenge

Representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy and the City of Cleveland were on hand Monday at the city’s Fire Station No. 1 to recognize local leaders in DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge.

Participants in the federal program publicly commit to decrease their energy consumption by at least 20 percent over a 10-year period and to share their know-how with others. Energy efficiency is a key part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

Monday’s program gave kudos to both the Cleveland Division of Fire and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority for reducing energy consumption and cutting costs for area taxpayers.

Also honored were the commercial real estate company Forest City Enterprises and the Cleveland Clinic. Both organizations have their headquarters in Cleveland.

The energy savings achieved by the organizations put them well ahead of the benchmarks utilities must meet under the current version of Ohio’s energy efficiency standard. Last year Ohio Senate Bill 310 extended that standard’s timetable and relaxed its requirements.

The Energy Mandates Study Committee set up by SB 310 continues to focus on costs, and some members question the value of the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. Little was said about the benefits of energy efficiency when the committee held its most recent meeting in Columbus last week.

In contrast, those at Monday’s program in Cleveland praised energy efficiency for its cost-effective savings and additional benefits.

Saving energy—and money

A smaller energy footprint can help businesses compete, noted Joyce Mihalik of Forest City Enterprises. More local governments are asking for energy usage information, but so are more of the companies that Forest City does business with.

“The call for transparency and disclosure of energy use in buildings will likely increase,” she said. “Asking for energy data will be a common question among future tenants.”

“Energy efficiency offers a twofold opportunity for Cleveland’s economy,” stressed Jenita McGowan of the city’s Office of Sustainability. “First, new business opportunities are born out of energy efficiency and conservation in the manufacturing and construction sector.”

“Secondly, energy efficiency can enable city governments, businesses and residents to save money,” she continued. They can use that money to “invest in other more important things.”

For the Cleveland Clinic, those other more important things center on patient care.

“It’s never been more important for health care organizations to take on energy efficiency as part of their care delivery,” noted John Utech of the Cleveland Clinic. “As we reduce our energy intensity, that frees up resources for patients.”

Beyond that, he noted, reducing energy usage leads to a “clearer environment for a community.”

In other words, lower demand could lead to less need to run coal-fired power plants and result in better air quality.

The Cleveland Clinic has cut energy usage by 9 percent reduction so far.

Among other things, operating rooms now feature LED lights. “LED lights are actually better for surgeons because they generate less heat,” Utech noted.

Other improvements include reducing the total number of air exchanges in operating rooms, using winter cooling to enhance chilling systems, more efficient air circulation within buildings, and better water treatment techniques.

Even something as simple as a bank of glass doors for accessing refrigerated supplies can save money, noted the Cleveland Clinic’s Joe Seestadt during a follow-up tour of the Tomsich Pathology Laboratories. Staff members only open a door a single time to get a particular supply item, rather than once on the way into a cooler room and once on the way out.

‘Low-hanging fruit’

So far, the City of Cleveland has reduced its energy use by about 5 percent, with annual utility bill savings of roughly $2 million per year. “We are continuing on this trajectory,” McGowan reported.

Improvements such as LED lighting and infrared heating for equipment bays played major roles in cutting the Cleveland Division of Fire’s energy by usage roughly 12 percent, reported Fire Chief Patrick Kelly.

Energy efficient lighting is a “no brainer,” noted Matthew Gray, also with the Cleveland Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. “It’s low-hanging fruit,” he added, meaning that projects are relatively easy to do and achieve savings quickly.

In the debates leading up to enactment of SB 310, utilities and others who wanted to eliminate or scale back Ohio’s energy efficiency standard claimed that few such easy-to-achieve savings were left.

However, FirstEnergy’s vice president Leila Vespoli noted in 2013 that only a small percentage of customers were participating in the utility’s energy-efficiency programs at that time. The company eliminated most of those programs in the wake of SB 310 last year.

Accordingly, advocates have said, a large percentage of electricity customers could still readily cut their energy usage—and reduce their bills accordingly.

Speakers at Monday’s program echoed this sentiment. They were enthusiastic about their organizations’ commitment to the Better Buildings Challenge. And they encouraged other businesses, organizations and governmental bodies to embrace energy efficiency as well.

“We at the fire station are committed to energy efficiency,” stressed Kelly. “It helps us reduce our operating costs. This is money that can go into other areas to help us meet our core mission, which is protecting lives and property from fire and other hazards.”

3 thoughts on “Cleveland steps up on energy efficiency challenge

  1. Correction: NOTHING was said at the Energy Mandates Study Committee hearing last week about efficiency. The spokesman Andrew Ott from PJM played into the hands of the Senator who hates clean energy by spending quite a lot of time on the capacity benefits of wind, neglecting the capacity benefits of solar, and neglecting efficiency entirely, even though PJM’s last auction received 1200 MW’s of efficiency bids.

    Mr. Ott may have been treading carefully through a landmine field. His testimony is very minor compared to the PUCO’s refusal to provide the EMSC with any actual summary costs or benefits for efficiency or for renewables. Chairman Johnson did give the lawmakers the cost per KWh on average, which was so low that it would have proven that many witnesses against the standards in last year’s hearings were fabricating their assertions of high rate impact.

    But the worst thing that the PUCO has done is trumped up what they call an “analysis” of the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, projecting an Ohio response which relies 100% on natural gas. This strategy has the absurd outcome of requiring 100% of Ohio coal to retire, when the same carbon reductions can be acheived for $28 billion less (15% of total electric spending over 15 years) by preserving the existing EE and RE standards, and only retiring half of Ohio’s coal use.

    Aside from the fact that there isn’t enough natural gas in the U.S. to permit this strategy, the costs are very high, but not high enough to get Ohio’s regulators to do an honest public examination of what the existing standards are achieving.

    I love what the Cleveland companies are doing, but a lot of what they did was funded by the utility programs. Vespoli’s perspective should be weighted against the simple fact that FE is going to see a 10 – 15% rate increase this summer due to their manipulaton of the 2012 PJM auction (PJM auctions are three years in advance).

  2. AUTHOR’S NOTE: Ott’s formal prepared testimony did very briefly mention energy efficiency. Ott stated that the regional market lets participants “monetize benefits of investments in new generation, energy efficiency, and other innovations like energy storage.” He also noted that “approximately 2,075 MW of demand response resources and 271 MW of energy efficiency resources were committed in the most recent PJM capacity auction for 2017.”

    Nonetheless, it is true that members of the Energy Mandates Study Committee did not ask Ott about how those energy efficiency resources can benefit ratepayers in Ohio. During the hearings leading up to SB 310, various experts testified that including energy efficiency in PJM’s auctions can lower the final auction price, eliminate the need for the most expensive forms of capacity, avoid costs for building new peak power plants, and improve environmental quality. Members of the committee also did not ask Ott about how changes made by SB 310 might affect the amount of energy efficiency resources that could qualify for the auction under PJM’s rules.

  3. Note that the 2,075 MW of demand response resources and 271 MW of energy efficiency resources referenced by Ott came from Ohio. For energy efficiency, the total from the whole region was “over 1,300 MW,” according to Ott.