New DC Utility Helps Carry Out Sustainability Measures


Pamela King, E&E reporter

A new sustainable energy utility could play a key role in Washington, DC's goals to reduce energy use.

Unlike traditional utilities that sell energy to customers, the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DC SEU) aims to help its clients gain control over their utility bills by assisting with the installation of new light fixtures, solar panels and hot water heaters.

Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility is the only other service provider that shares the sustainable energy utility designation, although many other states, including Wisconsin and Vermont, have established similar models for their renewable energy programs.

"We're not trying to sell an increment of energy to folks," said Scott Johnstone, managing director of the DC utility. "We're trying to help them either not use energy ... or create new energy that they control through renewables."

DC SEU was created by the City Council's Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008, which set up a trust fund to finance the utility as it aims to create green jobs for DC residents, reduce energy use in city homes and businesses by 1 percent annually and improve energy efficiency in low-income housing.

According to estimates by the DC Department of the Environment, the city spends about $79 million per year on energy use for public buildings alone, based on survey data from 194 government buildings in the district. One of DC SEU's goals is to supplement its trust fund -- which is generated by revenues from surcharges on most city residents' electric and natural gas utility bills -- with federal aid, philanthropic contributions and bank finance programs, Johnstone said.

Earlier this year, DC SEU began acting on its efficiency goals by launching a package of programs, each of which will close at the end of September when this fiscal year ends. Shortly after the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, the utility will debut a new selection of initiatives, some of which will be current programs restructured to meet long-term goals, Johnstone said. Services for DC SEU are designed, developed and delivered by a group of sustainable energy partners, under the leadership of Vermont Energy Investment Corp.

Through its small business direct installation initiative, DC SEU provides free energy assessments and energy efficiency retrofits for the city's small businesses. Contractors for the utility visit businesses and install energy efficient lighting, water heater tanks and air conditioners in an attempt to generate interest in the services.

DC SEU also visits single-family homes where, in exchange for a $100 co-payment, contractors for the utility conduct a limited amount of weatherization work to improve the homes' energy efficiency.

The utility's low-income component identifies buildings occupied primarily by low-income families and dispatches a number of utility contractors to install efficient lighting, heating, refrigeration and air conditioning for free in the residences.

Finally, DC SEU aims to administer approximately 20 solar and hot water heater installations for eligible applicants.

Johnstone said the utility's work this summer has helped gauge the appetite and job-creation potential for these types of renewable energy programs in the district. Results from the current programs have also helped the utility determine the effects of its services. For each apartment served, DC SEU estimates direct installation services can reduce combined electric and natural gas utility costs by about $69 per year.

Watching energy use in the district "gives us an insight into how to design programs," Johnstone said.

Republished with permission. Copyright 2011, E&E Publishing, LLC.

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