Economic Development Research Group Blog

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Community Energy Initiatives: Evaluating Their Achievements

Community Choice Energy Costa Contra CountyEnergy program evaluation has sure changed! Programs to support efficiency in energy use and renewable power sources go back 40 years, following oil crises in the 1970s. Utility companies were mandated to provide incentives to users via “demand side management” conservation programs. These were followed by public rebates for investment in renewable and efficient technologies. The programs were evaluated for effectiveness, and initially there was great concern about net benefits -- not counting “free riders” (who would have made the energy efficient choices even without the program). EDR Group was a part of these evaluations from its beginning in the late 1990s, and our work featured measurement of both economic impacts and net benefits.

Now today, we are in a world where energy solutions are more broadly appreciated for their economic, social and environmental sustainability benefits.  And now we are seeing sustainable energy initiatives being taken by residents and municipalities – at the community-wide level. These include “community choice aggregation” efforts to pool buying power for renewable energy, and municipal programs variously referred to as “Green Communities”, “Energy Cities”, “Smart Cities”, etc.  For communities, this changed perspective means that energy supply, energy use, energy and water-using equipment are now being approached in more comprehensive ways, such as:

  • Purchasing municipal energy through aggregation services.
  • Generating electricity with solar and wind installations.
  • Hardening critical equipment and facilities – police, fire, hospitals, schools against flood and other extreme weather events.
  • Maximizing efficiencies in vehicles, water and waste water, street lighting, and other municipal equipment
  • Supporting and enforcing more stringent energy efficient building codes.
  • Promoting and providing alternatives to car-centered transportation.

There are costs to all these things but there are immediate and long-term benefits, too. One of the largest questions, though, is “Are communities getting the benefits and the cost-effectiveness they expect?”  This becomes challenging, as the community initiatives are addressing broader reliability, resilience, economic development and sustainability goals that require a very different form of evaluation. An engineering maxim is ‘If you can measure it, you can manage it.  But some benefits, such as wider health and economic development effects, are challenging to measure.  EDR Group, and our colleagues at sister company EBP in Switzerland and Chile, are pursuing these issues by conducting evaluations across the spectrum of community energy programs.  Stay tuned for more information as more results of these studies are released in the future!


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