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I attended a townhall meeting last Saturday in the county where I live, Arlington county, Virginia. For those not familiar where it is, Arlington it's a throw stone from Washington DC. We're just across the Potomac river.
Jay Fisette, Chairman of Arlington County Board hosted the first ever townhall meeting for community energy plan. "No communities that I know of - virtually none - have created a community energy plan, and this is now coming into the forefront," says Jay.
Arlington county definitely has a competitive advantage. Unlike other counties in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the county started early in the game (30 years ago) with its smart growth that links transportation with land use planning.
To kick off the community energy plan, the county has created a task force made up of its stakeholders, from utilities, property owners, citizens, to conservationistas. The purpose of this task force, Jay said is, "to draft and recommend to the county board a community energy plan that will reshape where we get our energy from, whether it's from cogeneration, renewable energy, energy efficiency, that will ultimately reduce our energy use and make ourselves more sustainable and help the environment."
The community energy plan is a holistic approach that can paved the way for the county's transformation to move away from a fossil-fuel economy towards a clean energy economy. The idea is to look into how energy is being used - from neighborhood to neighborhood - then comparing scenarios between business as usual with efficiency.
Energy use in the county is divided into heating, cooling, lighting and other type. The types of buildings stock for the county includes hotels, offices, retails, homes (condominium, single family, townhouse) and other. For that, the county has identified its biggest energy sucker: the big buildings. That's why, they have property owners, landlords sit on the task force. For the county to move on with their plan, they need everybody's buy-in (which is a smart strategy).
image: citizens discussing the plan at the meeting.
The primary driver for this community energy plan is to make Arlington competitive.
This image below shows the baseline of county's energy use. You'll see here how countywide, big buildings consumed 45% of its energy use vs. residential 23% and transportation 28%. So if energy use can be efficient, just by reducing the use from this sector alone, the move could save businesses' money that in return would be good for bottom line.
Furthermore, more than half (56%) of its energy comes from electricity (coal-fired plants). Knock this off (or reduce it), will make the air cleaner.
After the preliminary presentation, we then break up into groups. Listening to inputs from the residents, one of the things mentioned was the language in condominium document that couldn't make assessment when they tried to something for newer more efficient, that the language of the doc says ".. improvement has to be in-kind." It has something to do with Virginia Condominium Act. It is a universal language, at this moment. Only Virginia assembly can change this.
What do I say, this is just the beginning. We obviously have some work to do. This will be a work-in-progress. However, I applaud the county board, for leading the change.
Making the case
While at the meeting, I caught up with Jay about Arlington's energy plan. Listen to what he has to say about the plan..