Power for a Population Boom

01/02/2018

Since 2000, Washington, D.C.’s population has surged, but its power grid has not. Instead of generators, the city added renewables and upgraded aged structures — including many federal office buildings, the city’s largest energy consumers — keeping the lights on while keeping costs down for the city’s poorest residents. Ted Trabue, Managing Director of the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU), tells Nexus Media how they did it.

Why is Washington, D.C. so obsessed with energy efficiency?

Almost 20 years ago, then mayor Tony Williams laid the groundwork to bring in more high-income residents and more corporations to strengthen the city’s tax base. But how do you deliver energy to them? You either build more generation or you help people reduce consumption — it’s going to cost you either way.

We recognized that it’s much cheaper to go after efficiency than to build new generating capacity. In the District, the results are clear: the population has grown by 13 percent in the last five years, yet electricity sales during that time have fallen by 3 percent.

What sparked the shift?

Two decades ago, D.C. was coming out of a financial crisis. The government was broken, and we had to get our financial house in order. The genesis of the recovery was Tony Williams, and he commissioned a study to look at where the city was getting its revenues. It showed that a small percentage of local residents and businesses were paying the majority of taxes.

Unfortunately, 30 percent of the land in the District is non-taxable because the federal government — or a church, or an embassy, or another non-profit institution — sits on it. Mayor Williams wanted to bring 100,000 new residents over the next 20 years to grow the tax base.

When he said it, people laughed, and yet we grew the population in this town by 100,000 people in less than 10 years. It’s now higher than it’s been in four decades.

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