Energy and water efficiency may be the cheapest, most abundant, and most underutilized resource for local economic and community development.  Investments in energy efficiency are not only the cheapest source of energy available, but they can improve community self-reliance and resilience,  create local jobs,  extend the life of and reduce the costs and risks of critical infrastructure investments, catalyze local economic reinvestment, improve the livability and the local asset value of the built environment and protect human health and the natural environment through reducing emissions of criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases…..just to name a few of the quantifiable benefits.   It’s also just plain smart.
It turns out that the City of San Diego isn’t so smart.  In fact, it borders on plain dumb.  American Council for an Energy-Efficient (ACEEE) released its September 2013 report  in which it ranked 34 major American cities—the 25 most populous incorporated ones, plus the central cities of nine other major metropolitan areas—according to their efforts to promote energy and water savings. The report looked at building codes, community-wide energy initiatives, transportation policies, energy-saving programs involving public utilities, and efforts to improve the efficiency of government building.  According to ACEEE,     San Diego ranked 20th out of 34 cities, scoring 38.25 points out of a possible 100.   Boston, Portland, New York City, San Francisco all scored at 70 points or above.   Sacramento scored 40.75 points.   Click here for the complete ACEEE report.
ACEEE studied view the adoption and implementation of specific government policies, actions, or public services that can improve energy efficiency. These metrics measured policies and programs that:
  • Directly reduce end-use energy consumption
  • Accelerate the adoption of the most energy-efficient technologies
  • Provide funding for energy efficiency programs
  • Set long-term commitments to energy efficiency
  • Establish or enforce mandatory performance codes or standards
  • Reduce market, regulatory, and information barriers to energy efficiency
Each policy metric is related to one of five policy areas:
  1. Local government operations
  2. Community-wide initiatives
  3. Buildings policies
  4. Energy and water utilities and public benefit programs
  5. Transportation policies
The City of San Diego ranked particularly low in local government operations  (8.25 points out of 15),  community-wide initiatives  (6 points out of 10),  building policies  (7.5 points out of 29) and transportation policies  (9 points out of 28).   It fared reasonably well in public benefit programs due largely to state regulatory initiatives, rather than anything done by the City of San Diego.
Boston received the highest score overall, the highest score for community-wide initiatives, and tied with San Francisco for the highest score on utilities and public benefits programs. Boston has a broad set of efficiency policies, exemplified most recently by the adoption of an energyuse-disclosure requirement for buildings, and also runs its own efficiency program, RenewBoston. The city has community-wide targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions and electricity savings, has put significant effort toward actively managing its progress, and is on track to hit its goals. Boston has also emerged as a strong voice for efficiency at the state level in
Massachusetts, the highest-scoring state in the 2012 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard (Foster et al. 2012). The city has been an advocate for the state’s high levels of utility spending on electricity and natural gas efficiency programs and has worked directly with its investor-owned utilities to promote programs and fund city-run initiatives.   By comparison,  San Diego has done almost none of these things.
Amongst San Diego’s greatest deficiencies, according to the ACEEE report, was its City-wide Performance Management  (in which it scored lowest of all cities) , efficiency efforts by its water utility (ranked 29th out of 34 cities), transportation initiatives  (ranked 30th out of 34 cities), mass transit  (33rd out of 34 cities), leadership on utility energy efficiency (ranked 31st out of 34 cities),
Surprisingly,  its domestic water use, per capita, between 1995-2005 was very tepid.   During that 10 year period,  San Diego reduced per capita consumption by 2%.  In comparison,  San Francisco and San Jose reduced their per capita consumption by 22% and 12% respectively.    ACEEE reports that San Diego had a water savings target  proposed in the update to the city’s 2012 Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Plan but was not included in the final version.
San Diego’s previous goal was to reduce energy use to 10% below 2000 levels by 2012. The current draft of 2012 Climate Mitigation and Action Plan sets a goal to achieve energy savings of 20% by 2020 and 30% by 2035.   However, ACEEE reports that “Due to funding limits, a full assessment of the 2012 goal to “reduce energy use by 10% relative to 2000 levels by 2012 cannot be verified.”   It also notes that “due to funding shortfalls, no reporting was done based on the 2009 City of San Diego Energy Strategy”
San Diego’s Energy Conservation and Management Division of Environmental Services Department has approximately ten FTEs. The city has award programs for staff in buildings or departments with significant reductions in energy consumption.    Similarly sized cities, such as Dallas has 22 FTE positions for a similar city office.   Austin which is 33% smaller than San Diego has 9 FTEs.    Columbus, OH which is also 33% smaller than San Diego has 25 assigned staff to work on energy efficiency initiatives in City offices.
In the Life-cycle Cost Policies and Capital Budget Maintenance category,  San Diego ranked 30th out of 34th because it had no life-cycle cost considerations for its capital expenditures.   In contrast,   San Francisco has approximately 5% of capital funds from 2014–2023 are dedicated to new assets and infrastructure, while 95% is dedicated to renewal and enhancement of existing assets and infrastructure.   Houston uses life-cycle cost considerations in specific instances, including water main replacement. In fiscal year 2013, the city is spending approximately 35% of its capital improvement budget on maintenance and upgrades of existing infrastructure. Fort Worth uses an  energy savings performance contracting model, mainly because of its neutral effect on the city’s annual budget. Typically, net benefits to energy, water, and maintenance budgets are accounted for against principle, interest, and service costs. Individual measures implemented under the city’s energy conservation program must also pay for themselves within their useful life.    Phoenix utilizes development impact fees and life-cycle costing analysis, as does Sacramento, Seatle and Boston.
Clearly, the City of San Diego has its work cut out for it.     The City’s Energy Conservation & Management Division is part of the Environmental Services Department.  It was formed in response to the 2001 Energy Crisis to pursue the City of San Diego’s long-term goal of energy independence;  its  former Energy Administrator, Tom Blair, retired in 2012.   His successor has not been named.    Almost all of this department’s activities and awards date from 2001-2005;  almost nothing appears on its website indicating recent initiatives or recognition.