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Tool allows communities to assess clean energy progress; Montgomery County calls it ‘innovative’

December 12, 2019
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Our 2019 City Scorecard assesses the 75 largest US cities on their clean energy efforts, serving as the beginning of a policy roadmap. Now, communities of all sizes can use the updated Local Clean Energy Self-Scoring Tool to track their progress, identify areas for improvement, and compare their results to peers.

The tool allows towns and counties to benchmark their progress across five policy areas: local government operations, community-wide initiatives, buildings policies, transportation policies, and energy and water utilities. To learn more about the range of policy actions on the local level, visit ACEEE’s State and Local Policy Database.

Don’t take our word for it, though. We gave Montgomery County a sneak peek of the newly updated Self-Scoring Tool. Montgomery County, located just outside of Washington, DC, is the most populated county in Maryland. Overall, we found it performed well, earning a score that would have placed it among the top 25 cities in the 2019 City Scorecard. The county scored best in buildings and transportation partly because of its benchmarking disclosure program and location-efficient zoning codes.

We talked to Lindsey Shaw, Energy and Sustainability Programs manager at the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, about the tool and the county’s achievements.

How will Montgomery County use the results and insights from the Self-Scoring Tool?

For Montgomery County, ACEEE’s Self-Scoring Tool is an innovative way to monitor our progress towards our sustainability goals and compare the progress of a large county against smaller cities as encouragement to do better. We use continuing evaluation and metrics monitoring of our programs, so the Self-Scoring Tool fits nicely into our current systems for measuring progress. Using the Self-Scoring Tool regularly will give us status updates on how we’re doing, benchmark our progress against our local government peers, and identify specific areas where we can improve.

What has been the most effective program to save energy in buildings?

Buildings make up more than half of the county’s community-wide GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions inventory, so to meet our ambitious carbon reduction goals, many of our energy efficiency programs target both new and existing buildings. To address sustainability in new buildings, Montgomery County has adopted the 2012 International Green Construction (IgCC) code and is working on adoption of the 2018 IgCC. For existing buildings, Montgomery County has a stakeholder-designed building energy benchmarking and transparency program that has been in place since 2014. Both of these programs serve as engagement tools to talk to owners and managers about the operations of the buildings, as well as other programs (such as incentives, grants, and financing) that they can take advantage of if they’re upgrading their buildings.

How have recent transportation initiatives increased energy efficiency?

The most recent initiative that aims to address transportation efficiencies is the Transportation Demand Management Plan, which aims to reduce traffic congestion and automobile emissions and to support multimodal transportation. Enhancing the efficient use of transportation infrastructure through this plan is one of the most effective ways of increasing energy efficiency and reducing GHG emissions. Also, our move to focus on mixed-used development, reevaluate parking minimum requirements, and open up pilots for more types of non-automobile transportation options have been effective strategies to combat congestion.

What challenges has the county faced while implementing energy efficiency policies?

Montgomery County is fairly progressive when it comes to energy policy, and generally has political and community support with new energy efficiency initiatives. However, as with almost any other jurisdiction, our limitations are ones of budget, staff capacity, and time. Competing priorities for limited budgets and challenges with filling staff vacancies quickly with high-quality candidates are prime limiting factors in implementing policy effectively. Despite this, we are still working to tackle big issues like our county’s climate emergency with effective policies, time management, and finding funding opportunities that we can leverage.

What advice to you have for other localities working to improve energy efficiency?

Montgomery County has only been successful in our efforts to move the needle on energy efficiency because we engage with our stakeholders often—both in the private sector as well as within other government agencies. When we design policies that created new requirements for building owners, we bring them to the table and ask for their opinions and challenges, and end up crafting a more effective policy with a receptive audience that feels more invested because they helped create it. Any jurisdictions looking to improve energy efficiency can create more effective policies if they bring their stakeholders into the process—whether its benchmarking policies, building codes, or outreach programs.

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Local and Community Initiatives Government Lead by Example Climate Change Policy, Air Emissions Regulation, and CPP
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