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Atlanta's Power to Change Program Shows That Building Retrofits Mean Business

By Aaron Bastian, City of Atlanta

Atlanta’s citywide sustainability initiative, Power to Change, has more than 300 stakeholders across Atlanta representing neighborhoods, schools, businesses, community organizations and government agencies. Power to Change helps build a solid basis for measurable sustainability action throughout Atlanta.

One important component of this initiative is energy efficiency. The city’s involvement in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Better Buildings Challenge gives us the tools to move the needle by offering incentives to building owners to retrofit their buildings to be more efficient.

Through the Challenge, owners and managers across the country and here in Atlanta pledge to reduce their buildings’ energy use by 20 percent by 2020. The city’s partnership with the DOE lets us work with these facility and building owners in downtown Atlanta and beyond to provide incentives such as building assessments, technical training courses, and access to project financing opportunities.

Buildings consume 40 percent of all energy consumption across the U.S. By focusing on improving the existing building stock throughout Atlanta, we’ve increased retrofit opportunities for building owners to lower building consumption and improve their bottom line. By applying deep energy retrofits and renovations to these buildings with new technologies and more efficient systems, buildings across Atlanta are performing better.

We’re seeing a positive trend with property owners investing in their existing buildings to increase efficiency and marketability. Many of the building owners collaborating with the city and the Better Buildings Challenge operate buildings that were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Through energy improvements in areas such as HVAC systems and lighting, these buildings not only increase their performance, they’re leasing faster and making their owners more competitive.

Staying competitive

Atlanta’s real estate market is extremely competitive and building owners need a way to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. If one building is operating efficiently and offers a more comfortable, healthy setting than another, tenants will lease the energy-saving building that performs better. By offering owners the tools they need to assess, plan for, and finance energy saving opportunities, we help increase their competitiveness.

One incentive that’s popular with building owners is the energy audit we provide through our partnerships with local utilities. This step-by-step evaluation process of each participating building involves collecting data on utility usage, general building characteristics, and occupancy information, followed by in-depth analysis and modeling of collected data. This analysis measures the performance of each building by setting a baseline from which to track and quantify changes over time while helping building owners identify areas ripe for energy investments.

We also offer education opportunities for engineers or property managers to learn about technology and best practices in energy and water efficiency, which, based on feedback, has been valuable to property teams.

Showcase project savings

The DOE’s leadership and its technical expertise provide substantial credibility for our energy efficiency programs. The city’s involvement not only lets us offer energy-efficient strategies, programs, and analyses to increase the sustainability of buildings across Atlanta, we are also working with the DOE to develop replicable models to save energy in other cities around the country. It’s an invaluable partnership and resource for both city operational improvements and lets us offer external communications to stakeholders and taxpayers about results.

As part of Atlanta’s involvement in the Better Buildings Challenge, we shared the Atlanta Civic Center retrofit as a showcase project with DOE. The facility, built in the 1980s, was energy and water inefficient. The retrofit project for that facility alone created 86 jobs, many of them filled by the local Atlanta workforce. The city is expected to save $200,000 per year, or a total of $3.57 million over 15 years. And, energy efficiency upgrades at the Atlanta Civic Center will also decrease the city’s carbon footprint by reducing annual CO2 emissions by approximately 2.9 million pounds.

Creating better communities

Our involvement in DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge lets us create a replicable model for the surrounding community and buildings within it while amplifying our successful efforts to an influential audience who believes in energy efficiency.

To further help communities, we have been able to leverage property taxes to revitalize neighborhoods through efficiency upgrades and reinvest in these communities to help neighborhoods retrofit their buildings.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had this to say at a recent event about the city’s involvement in the Better Buildings Challenge:  “The partnership between our businesses, universities, neighboring governments, and nonprofits will keep Atlanta in the lead.”

This partnership with the DOE gives Atlanta’s building owners the tools to reduce operating costs, make their property more attractive to potential tenants, and demonstrate leadership not only in Atlanta but throughout the nation.

Aaron Bastian is the Communications and Project Manager for the City of Atlanta and Mayor's Office of Sustainability.

[image credit: Adam: Flickr cc]

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