Skip navigation to main content.
NREL - National Renewable Energy Laboratory
About NRELEnergy AnalysisScience and TechnologyTechnology TransferTechnology DeploymentEnergy Systems Integration

Local Energy Plans in Practice — Case Studies of Austin and Denver

To help state and local governments better understand the challenges of citywide energy planning, NREL examined the climate-oriented energy plans of two cities: Austin, Texas, and Denver, Colorado. The analysis looks at the following:

  • How the energy plans are structured to address the political, fiscal, and logistical realities of the city
  • The successes and obstacles each city experienced implementing the energy initiatives in their plans
  • Whether the cities had to alter the design and expectations for the energy plans
  • The roles community, business, utility, and other government partners play in implementing their energy initiatives
  • The financial resources utilized in funding energy initiatives under their plans
  • The energy planning results the cities have tracked.

See the full report, Local Energy Plans in Practice: Case Studies of Austin and Denver.

Lessons Learned

From its case studies of Austin and Denver, NREL developed the following general lessons on local energy planning based on the experiences of both cities.

  • Importance of State Support

    A city without a municipally owned utility can develop and deploy local energy programs, but will likely have more options and a greater impact if supportive state-level energy policies are in place. An aggressive state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) will aid a city in advancing its energy/climate goals by requiring the local utility to supply city residents and businesses with cleaner energy generated from renewable resources. City energy programs also benefit from the establishment of state demand-side management requirements.

  • Financial Commitment from the City

    City funding for staff and energy initiatives provides organizational and administrative stability for the implementation of a citywide energy plan. A city with a municipally owned utility is well positioned to implement local energy efficiency programs and increase renewable energy supplied to citizens, but it will likely need to make a substantial political and financial commitment in dedicating utility revenues for energy programs and initiatives. Cities with a municipally owned utility can also justify the use of utility-generated revenues on energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and initiatives as a less expensive alternative to building additional power plants.

  • Leveraging Partnerships with Non-City Entities

    Cities, particularly cities that don't make a significant city budget allocation towards the implementation of energy programs—either from the general fund or utility revenues—should look to leveraging financial and other resources from non-city partners. These partners can include federal, state, and other surrounding local governments, as well as local utilities, businesses, universities, and community organizations. Partnerships can provide a substantial boost to the impact of and participation in outreach initiatives included in energy plans.

  • Reliance on Federal Program Funding

    Initiatives and programs of energy plans that rely heavily on funding from federal programs will likely be more difficult to sustain and maintain as federal energy program commitments fluctuate. Cities should look to develop energy programs dependent on multiple funding sources, striving to develop energy initiatives that will be viable even if federal dollars are unavailable.

  • Benefits to Targeting Government Operations

    Most cities have the opportunity to advance programs targeting energy use in government operations — including building efficiency improvements, green fleets, and installing renewable energy on government facilities. Cities have greater control over government facilities energy use and can directly benefit from the cost savings from energy efficiency improvements. Cities can integrate energy efficiency improvements into capital improvement programs, utilizing existing funds available for building retrofits, equipment replacement, and maintenance.

More Information

For more information about the local energy planning process, see the U.S. Department of Energy's fact sheet, Community Greening: How to Develop a Strategic Energy Plan.