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City-Level Energy Decision Making: Examples from 20 Cities

June 25, 2015 by Alexandra Aznar

Cities in the United States are increasingly taking action to improve the sustainability of their jurisdictions. Efficient energy use and clean energy are a fundamental component of the cost of living and mitigating and adapting to climate change, and therefore central to improving community long-term sustainability. A team of analysts with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Cities Leading through Energy Analysis and Planning (Cities-LEAP) project analyzed sustainability and climate plans and interviewed staff from 20 U.S. cities (Figure 1) to understand the extent to which cities use data in energy planning, implementation, and evaluation. City energy goals, actions, policies implemented in pursuit of those goals, and measurements of progress toward the goals were catalogued in this research.

A map of the 50 U.S. states, with 20 cities marked.

Figure 1: Cities evaluated

Figure 2: Cities selected for analysis
City State
Baltimore Maryland
Benicia California
Boston Massachusetts
Charleston South Carolina
Charlottesville Virginia
Chicago Illinois
Cleveland Ohio
Columbia Missouri
Dallas Texas
Flagstaff Arizona
Fort Collins Colorado
Hartford Connecticut
Knoxville Tennessee
Los Angeles California
Minneapolis Minnesota
Mission Kansas
New York New York
Park City Utah
Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
Seattle Washington

Analyzing plans showed that most cities focus on energy use in three main categories:

  • Buildings and efficiency
  • Transportation and land use
  • Renewable power.

Cities selected for this analysis had to have a publically stated goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve this goal, cities pursue a variety of opportunities across energy sectors.

The top seven energy-related actions cities intend to pursue per their sustainability and climate plans are below. Because language varies from plan to plan, these actions have been standardized.

  1. Building certifications and best practices
  2. Outreach and communication
  3. Walkable, complete, mixed-use community planning
  4. Public transit service expansion
  5. Municipal operations changes
  6. Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure
  7. Municipal fleet fuel switching.

City-level energy decision making is dynamic. Cities are taking a variety of actions within their jurisdiction to impact energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. However, this analysis also illustrates that cities would benefit from a better understanding of the energy, greenhouse gas, and cost impacts of energy programs, policies, and actions to help them meet their city energy goals for maximum impact. The Cities-LEAP project seeks to fill this need by providing comprehensive, standardized, and usable estimates of local energy use, cost implications of local clean energy policies, and greenhouse gas abatement potential for local clean energy actions.

Stay up to date on the progress of this analysis, as well as other efforts, by subscribing to receive emails about Cities-LEAP projects. Visit the Cities-LEAP Web page to learn more.

Tags: Tools Resources Policy