What is a Community Energy Plan?

Energy planning investigates issues centered on the use and delivery of energy in the community; identifies how these issues intersect with land use patterns and transportation choices; and forms strategies to improve the efficiency of energy use in the community. Energy planning at the local level converges planning with many other issues, including playing a large role in quality building standards; emergency management planning (since most community-wide emergency events involve the disruption of power delivery); facility cost and fiscal projections; air quality; and land use.

An Example: OKI’s Role in Community Energy Planning

With an award from the Duke Class Benefit Fund, OKI produced Community Strategic Energy Plans for eight local communities in southwest Ohio from 2017 through 2020.

The eight communities included:

  • Village of Cleves
  • Colerain Township
  • Middletown
  • Village of Silverton
  • Harlan Township
  • Delhi Township
  • North College Hill
  • Turtlecreek Township

Although generally based on content from the US Department of Energy’s guide on producing a local energy plan, OKI worked with each government to tailor a plan unique to their community. Each plan addressed a range of energy-related topics, included multiple avenues of public input, and included an energy audit of local government facilities.

After completing each plan, OKI then made $15,000 available to that community to begin their plan. These grants, which totaled over $132,000, were leveraged into a half-million-dollar investment in energy efficiency benefitting these eight communities.

Ways this project benefited the local Community and the Region:

Implementation fund results
  • Developed eight locally driven community energy plans to serve as examples for other communities to follow
  • Builds awareness of how energy affects local communities and ties into traditional community planning topics like transportation, housing, economic development, and natural systems
  • Develops a knowledge base, data, and indicators that can be used to understand energy impacts throughout the region
  • Provided funds to kick-start the implementation of the plans
  • Builds stronger awareness of local priorities regarding energy, which is expected to lead to further local and regional activity on energy issues

The communities made energy-efficient improvements to their facilities; added electric vehicles to their fleets; replaced antiquated streetlights with LED fixtures; and planted trees in areas damaged by urban heat islands. These improvements reduced energy consumption and emissions equal to reducing traffic by a million vehicle miles each year.

This project developed a much better understanding of something that is currently lacking from the discussion of energy issues — local community priorities. We have come to understand that things work better when our regional transportation priorities and local land use priorities are mutually aligned. The same holds true for our energy policies and infrastructure. It is essential that we develop a locally driven set of energy priorities and are able to effectively communicate those to all involved in the energy field. Technologies and regulations are changing rapidly. As a region, we need to develop a voice in that conversation — and that voice starts at the local community level.

How to Develop your Community Energy Plan

Energy is a topic that intersects with many other areas of a community’s comprehensive plan. One of the key takeaways from our experience developing local community energy plans is that energy is a topic best discussed and carried out when drafting or updating a comprehensive plan. Energy is a key part of developing strategies for housing, transportation, community facilities and services, economic development, and natural systems. Energy is best used as a lens to inform and enhance a community’s strategies on a variety of fronts.

Topics to be addressed related to Energy

  • Facilities and municipal energy use
  • The resiliency of energy systems serving the community
  • The effect of development patterns and transportation choice on energy use
  • The energy efficiency of building stock within the community
  • Equity of access to energy efficient housing and incentives used to improve energy efficiency
  • The ability of existing energy capacities to meet anticipated future demands based on projected land use
  • Improve access to, and the use of, renewable and/or cleaner sources of energy
  • Tracking energy related trends, facilities, issues, needs, and opportunities in the community

It’s important to first establish an energy baseline for two reasons. First is to get a handle on how energy is being used in the community; and second is to be able to measure improvement over time. The baseline can include any of the following measurements:

  • Community energy use data from the utility company
  • Public facility energy use data from the municipal energy bills. Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager tool  can make tracking energy use and identifying sources of potential savings easier.
  • Transportation energy use, using means of commuting to work from census data and areas of significant traffic congestion from OKI.
  • Number and distribution of dwelling units by type, size, age, and predominant types of construction

Engage public safety administrators and utility representatives to identify essential facilities and infrastructure, along with facilities and network components which are most at risk during a community-wide emergency. It’s essential that community emergency management plans and teams include energy infrastructure and utility personnel.

Assess the presence of renewable and/or clean sources of energy technology within the community using the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) map tool.

Energy burden scores range from .62 and 1.58 in Delhi Township
Energy Burden in Delhi Township

Investigate the impact of energy burden in the community. Energy burden is calculated by dividing the net cost of household energy (available from the utility) by total household income. This is done at a sub-level of the community, like a census block group or zip code. The results are mapped to identify areas where energy burden is most prevalent.

There are two key drivers of energy burden:

  • Building stock that is old, inefficient, and poorly maintained
  • Low household incomes.

Areas that are identified as having elevated rates of energy burden should be checked against areas with older housing, poorly maintained housing, and areas with low incomes and poverty. Generally, it is both factors working in concert driving disparities in energy burden in the community. Households with the lowest incomes mostly live in the oldest, and least energy-efficient housing. Areas with elevated poverty rates also tend to lack investment in its building stock.

The key to addressing energy burden is to promote energy efficient improvements in the building stock that is targeted to the homes of residents who are lower income, both owner and renter occupied.

Use OKI’s Urban Heat Island Map tool to map areas most impacted by the urban heat island effect.

Urban heat islands impact energy use because they prevent affected areas from cooling off at night during the summer. This requires air conditioning to run harder. Consequently, excess air conditioning use also adds to latent heat in the air. Areas with concentrated or large asphalt surfaces, and buildings with large areas under roof, like warehouses, are apt to see greater effects of urban heat islands. Neighborhoods that lack tree canopy also see increased impacts from heat islands.

Heat islands can be mitigated by increasing the tree canopy and using light-colored building materials in affected areas. Zoning regulations should require developers building parking areas to provide regularly spaced trees in and around the parking lot.