How Cities Are Beginning To Address Mounting Infrastructure Challenges (Part II)

April 16, 2016 by

Rob DuncanRob Duncan is a Solutions Consultant for ABM Building & Energy Solutions.

Last week in Part I, we explored some of the common financial challenges facing cities, towns, counties, and municipalities, and their fears regarding investing in much needed infrastructure improvements.

In Part II we’ll investigate how forward-thinking local governments are overcoming their fear and using creative financial solutions to fund their necessary infrastructure, maintenance and energy efficiency programs.

Moving Past the Fear of Funding with Creative Solutions

City of Kissimmee Lakefront

City of Kissimmee Lakefront Courtesy of City of Kissimmee

The first cities who are overcoming their fears of investing in infrastructure have experienced an early recovery, diversified revenue streams, have development partnerships, and strong economic development results. The City of Kissimmee, Florida is a good example. Since 2010, they have funded more than $80 million in infrastructure investments. They also just received an AA Bond Rating for new capital projects. The new bond dedicates about $37.2 million to improvement projects such as road enhancements ($9.7 million), Lakefront Park improvements ($13.5 million), parking garage and utility relocation ($7.0 million), and facility upgrades ($7.0 million).

“The city has been, and continues to be, fiscally responsible, while consistently delivering high-quality services to our residents without any increases in our taxes or fees,” said City of Kissimmee Mayor Jim Swan.

Identifying Realistic Funding Sources

There are many potential funding sources including some the local government can specifically impact and others that are well beyond the municipality’s control. Read the rest of this entry »

How Cities Are Beginning To Address Mounting Infrastructure Challenges (Part I)

April 4, 2016 by

Rob DuncanRob Duncan is a Solutions Consultant for ABM Building & Energy Solutions.

Cities, towns, counties, and other municipalities encounter financial imbalances because of a multitude of factors that negatively impact their budgets and limit their ability to fund all of their critical infrastructure needs. In fact, this is one of the most pressing challenges they face. Creative, energy-based funding solutions are changing the tide, and helping local governments to overcome budget obstacles and finally invest in needed infrastructure improvements to make their facilities more operationally and energy efficient, comfortable, healthy, and safe.

In Part I of my two-part blog post, I’ll explore the details behind the financial challenges faced by local governments who lack the necessary funding to enhance their infrastructure. Read on to learn more:

The Escalating Infrastructure Dilemma

It’s no secret infrastructure needs have become a critical challenge for local governments. Local Government FacilitiesCities and counties are trying to catch-up on deferred investment in roads, drinking water, wastewater, building and public parks and recreation. While financial conditions have stabilized somewhat, municipalities have had to defer infrastructure projects to balance budgets. The backlog of needs and lack of funding have been budget constraints since the start of the recession.

With the infrastructure needs mounting, many reports have been published revealing these financial challenges. In fact, the 2015 Menino Survey of Mayors found that aging and underfunded physical infrastructure weighs most heavily on the mind of mayors, who identify it as the most pressing challenge they face. Read the rest of this entry »

Top 5 Energy Efficiency Trends to Track in 2016

February 20, 2016 by

2015 was a great year for energy, with an estimated $310 billion now being invested in the energy efficiency market annually worldwide.

What helped make 2015 such a banner year? According to a recent article in Fortune, low oil prices, coal plant closures, a landmark climate change deal in Paris, and record-setting global solar projects all contributed to the growth and unprecedented success of energy efficiency initiatives, programs, and technology in 2015.

With that said, what can we expect in 2016? According to the article, here are the five major trends to watch for in energy efficiency in 2016:

Continued rock bottom oil prices

Oil prices are ultra low and the oil and gas industry has been hit hard. Exploration and production companies are defaulting, big oil companies are slashing their 2016 budgets, and more than 200,000 jobs globally have been lost.

Analysts expect oil prices to stay at rock bottom because of dropping demand from China and the Paris climate agreement. This suggests countries are committed to reducing their reliance on fossil fuel energy more than before. Some industry-watchers think the low oil prices will completely change the landscape of the oil industry for good.

solar globe_cropContinued growth of solar projects

The solar industry was on fire in 2015, especially in hot markets like the U.S. This popularity can be attributed to cheap solar panel prices, as well as companies capitalizing on new software, analytics, third-party financing, and marketing. Also, the recent renewal of an important tax credit for solar will continue to boost the U.S. solar industry for several more years.

China and India are also big future markets for solar, with China was slated to install as much solar in 2015 as America has done cumulatively to date. Chile and Mexico also have growing solar markets. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts solar will account for 35% of new power generation infrastructure built out over the next 25 years. That equals $3.7 trillion that will be spent on small and large scale solar projects globally.

Continued phase out of coal in developed countries

The Paris agreement was a huge signal that coal is being phased out in developed countries like the U.S. and much of Europe. Reliance is even being diminished in China, as the country seeks to clean up its air pollution.

In 2015, the U.S. shed coal jobs and will continue to do so in 2016. Moody’s Investors Service says the coal industry’s earnings in North America fell by 25% this year. Half the world’s coal reserves are now not profitable enough to extract, says the firm.

The only outlier when it comes to coal is India, who says it needs coal along with solar to meet its basic power generation growth needs.

Tentative return of nuclear power

Following the nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, countries stalled the development of new nuclear plants, and closed down aging plants outright. But now Japan, the U.S., and some countries in Europe, are revisiting new nuclear.

The power generation technology is unique in that it provides a large amount of power around the clock, but doesn’t have carbon emissions. Environmentalists are increasingly beginning to stand behind nuclear for just that reason.

Increased popularity of batteries and energy storageelectric car charging

Thanks to the shrinking costs of lithium-ion batteries, batteries will increasingly be used to power electric cars, help manage the power grid, and store energy for buildings in 2016.

Utilities are using batteries for the power grid as a way to avoid building and using on-demand power plants, which can be inefficient, dirty, and expensive to operate. Electric car makers are also increasingly using cheaper batteries to lower the overall costs of electric cars, making them more affordable for mainstream consumers. And, home and building owners are using batteries as a way to shift electricity use off of the grid (and onto batteries) when power rates are high.

For more details on these 2016 energy trends, read the complete Fortune article.

CHS-Lincoln Pilots Energy Saving Initiative

February 17, 2016 by

The U.S. healthcare system is notorious for using energy inefficiently or unnecessarily, generating more than 5.9 million tons of waste each year (which contributes more than eight percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.). And, they spend more than $10 billion a year on energy costs.

With the financial and resource pressures hospitals face today, healthcare facilities can’t afford this anymore and are starting to realize the benefits of energy conservation.

Visual Clues Help Energy Saving BehaviorButterflies Change Behavior

Change can be challenging, and saving energy starts with people and their behaviors. Take Carolinas Healthcare System Lincoln (CHS-Lincoln) hospital for example. According to an article in the Lincoln Times-News, the hospital was one of four in North Carolina chosen to pilot a CHS initiative aimed at reducing its energy use by 20 percent by 2017.

The first phase of the initiative focused on changing behavior. Employees were asked to carry out these specific actions:

  • Turn off lights and televisions when not in use
  • Shut down computer monitors
  • Reset thermostats
  • Close window blinds

To help employees remember to do these things, CHS-Lincoln placed monarch butterfly stickers in half the 90 rooms that were studied daily for compliance. These stickers served as a visual cue. According to the study, rooms with stickers had a 42-percent higher chance of being in compliance!

Measured Success

Positive results from this first phase led to an enhanced study, which measured the effectiveness of the behavioral change. To date the hospital has shown improvements that have them on track to save $125,000 on utilities this year.

“We actually exceeded expectations,” said Chad Brackett, director of plant operations and maintenance at CHS-Lincoln. “The expectations of the whole project were reached with first implementations. Everything else was basically a bonus.”

The hospital also made a lighting change in the parking lot that resulted in a $9,000 per year reduction in energy costs alone.

According to Brackett, energy-conscious decision-making will continue into the future, although he doesn’t know yet what different steps can be taken to reduce the carbon footprint further. Luckily, there are a lot of ways hospitals can reduce energy use beyond this initiative.

For example, they can easily leverage building and lighting system automation and controls to make them even more energy and cost efficient. Check out this case study on how Arnot Ogden Medical Center implemented an energy efficiency program that will deliver $14.5 million in guaranteed energy and operational savings — without having to spend any upfront capital.

Read the complete Lincoln Times News article for more about the CHS-Lincoln energy saving initiative.

Solar for Aviation is Taking Off!

January 30, 2016 by

Solar Array for AirportsAs one of the largest public users of energy in the country, airports are facing extremely high operating costs due, in large part, to energy. Energy is often an airport’s second largest operating expense!

At the same time, the Federal Aviation Administration is increasing its emphasis on sustainability with initiatives such as the Voluntary Airport Low Emission (VALE) program. VALE is a national program designed to reduce all sources of airport ground emissions. Through VALE, airports are reducing ozone emissions by approximately 478 tons per year, which is equivalent to removing over 26,000 cars and trucks off the road annually.

Solar is an ideal solution for the aviation industry because of its ability to reduce airport energy use, stabilize electricity costs, and improve the bottom line, all while demonstrating a commitment to sustainability.

Take the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport for example. According to an article in Think Progress, they have a $25 million solar project in the works that is expected to produce 3 megawatts of power and generate close to 20 percent of the airport’s total electricity. Airport solar projects like this one are on the rise, helping airports across the country reduce operating costs and air pollution — and generate thousands of aviation industry jobs.

Solar can also help generate non-aeronautical revenue — a solar array can potentially produce more than $100K in annual income for your airport. And a solar car port is an amenity that provides covered parking for airport visitors — enhancing traveler satisfaction — as well as drives extra income to the airport at the same time.

Is Solar For You?

With the cost of solar installations declining, it has become a viable financial solution for airports. Want to know more about the solar energy trend and if it can help your airport? Talk to a solar solutions provider who has experience with development, financing, EPC, asset management, and operations and maintenance. They can help you:

  • Determine if solar is a good fit for your airport and what types of solar programs are available
  • Check and see if you have under-valued assets — such as rooftops and open land — that can use solar to generate revenue
  • Find out if solar energy can reduce and stabilize your electricity costs — with little to no upfront investment