Virginia Energy Sense interviewed Nell Boyle, Sustainability and Outreach Coordinator for the City of Roanoke’s Office of Sustainability, to learn more about the efforts Roanoke is taking to become more energy efficient.

Tell us about what the Office of Sustainability is and the work it does for the City of Roanoke.

The Office of Sustainability (OS) is responsible for the reduction in greenhouse gases for the geographic community of Roanoke as well the municipal operations. The office is responsible for the development of the Climate Action Plan, its goals and strategies, and tracking the progress of the strategies. For municipal operations, this includes promotion of green building practices and LEED certification for new construction and renovation of city buildings. There is an ongoing emphasis on energy efficiency, resource conservation, the promotion of renewable energy, and use of electric vehicles and alternative fuels for the fleet. Along with the climate mitigation activities, the OS collects and reports the community and municipal greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to the climate mitigation activities, the Office of Sustainability also provides community education and outreach in community programs such as:

  • The Urban Heat Island Mapping – In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), citizen scientists collected granular surface heat temperatures across the city to identify the most vulnerable neighborhoods.
  • The Citizens Green Academy – A free five-week series for citizens about all things green in Roanoke, where local subject matter experts speak to various topics each week.
  • Envision Roanoke – A feedback loop for community input from citizens on environmental programs and activities.
  • Weatherize Roanoke – A one-stop shop for energy efficiency for low income and market rate citizens.
  • The Greater Roanoke Solar Co-op – A special opportunity for residential solar.
  • Commercial PACE – Economic development special financing tool for energy efficiency and green building improvements and renewable energy.
  • Clean & Green Business Coalition – The top twelve employers in Roanoke accepted a five-year challenge to reduce the companies’ greenhouse gas emissions. Extraordinary energy efficiency was achieved, exceeding the goal within two years.

Looking ahead, how do you see Virginia meeting its goal of becoming more energy efficient?

Certainly programs and incentives to help businesses and homeowners improve the energy efficiency of their buildings would have a huge impact. Since the state building code sets the precedent on the local level, strengthening the code for more stringent energy efficiency practices in new construction and renovation is critical. There should also be more attention to the impact of energy efficiency in the production of hot water, particularly at the industrial scale, as this is a huge consumer of energy.

On a positive note, the state has adopted a powerful program called the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE), which is special financing that encourages these energy efficiency and clean energy improvements. This unique financing tool is very attractive and relatively easy to qualify for, while making financial sense as well.

What advice does the Office of Sustainability have for Virginians who are trying to conserve energy and lower their energy use?

It is a win-win; there is no downside to conservation. Even the smallest changes generate improvement, often without any loss of comfort in your home. The Virginia Energy Sense program, which you can find at www.virginiaenergysense.org and on social media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), provides helpful tips and simple changes you can make to improve your energy consumption. Local utilities may also have free programs or incentives for homeowners to reduce their energy consumption.

Simple things you can do to become energy efficient include:

  • Switch to a programmable thermostat.
  • Reduce or increase your thermostat by one degree (up in the summer, down in the winter).
  • Unplug appliances, computers or phones when not charging.
  • Whenever you can, use cold water and add a low-flow showerhead.
  • One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways is to switch to LED light bulbs.

Can you tell us more about some of the energy efficiency initiatives the City of Roanoke has implemented/is in the process of implementing?

Energy efficiency is a priority at the city, and we have been actively been pursuing reductions since 2005. Roanoke’s facility team is staffed with highly trained professionals who are responsible for all the operation and maintenance of the city’s buildings and most capitol improvements. We have extensively updated all the outdated HVAC systems with high performance equipment. We have also improved the sequencing of equipment and added automated building systems in all of the city largest consumers. Staff is on the third round of upgraded lighting with LEDs and energy saving monitors. Each operating department prioritizes energy efficiency including transportation with LED traffic signals and streetlights.

The Department of Energy (DOE) began an energy retrofit of the Berglund Center – the city’s largest consumer of energy – in 2012. The program, part of the DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge Showcase Project, achieved its goal with a whopping 30 percent reduction by the end of 2018! The photo on the right features the Facilities Team, led by John McGhee, accepting the Better Buildings Challenge Showcase Award in 2018 for its great work!

 

The Citizens for Clean and Green Committee sounds like a great way to get the community involved with helping the city lower its carbon footprint. What are some of the projects that group is working on?

The Green Academy has been an annual event since 2010 and each year it has a sell-out crowd. It is a free five-week series of educational presentations about a variety of environmental initiatives that include carbon footprint, energy efficiency, renewable energy, alternative transportation, water conservation, stormwater, air quality, recycling and local food. Local subject matter experts provide a detailed overview of programs that are doing good work in Roanoke. In the post event survey, participants report they adopt two or more new behaviors after the program.

In 2020 due to COVID unfortunately, the Green Academy was cancelled. We look forward to starting back up in 2021.

In 2021, are there any municipal trends you’re seeing in the energy efficiency space?

Energy efficiency is becoming a priority in communities that previously did not participate in investing in the improvements. The core strategies have not changed, including tightening building envelopes, upgrading and automating systems, switching to LEDs and reducing hot water consumption. After the energy systems are top notch, then we can look at renewable and clean sources of energy.

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