Measure to Manage: Measurement & Data To Advance Houston’s Climate Agenda

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By Annise Parker, Mayor of the City of Houston

You can’t manage what you don’t measure.  It is an old adage that remains true today.  I believe that unless you measure critical success factors you cannot know if your plans and programs are getting better or worse.

The City of Houston looks at three areas very closely when we are evaluating greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction progress:  energy use, transportation, and waste.  In the City’s 2007 Community GHG emissions inventory, 58 percent of GHG emissions came from the building and industrial energy sector, 32 percent from the transportation sector, and 10 percent from the waste sector.

We have focused on those three areas to reduce our emissions, and with good success.  The City’s municipal operations emissions have realized a 26 percent decrease from our 2007 GHG emissions inventory.

We are very proud of that, and at the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group Mayors Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, I announced that the City of Houston will commit to a 5 percent GHG reduction in 2014 and 2015 for a 10 percent total reduction by 2016.

We will get there by continuing energy efficiency retrofits and LEED certification in municipal buildings.  Just this year, we committed to another $10 million project in our libraries.  We will work to increase the purchase of renewable power for municipal buildings.  We will utilize new technologies such as LED streetlights and/or smart energy tools to reduce energy usage.

We will continue to expand the use of hybrid, electric, and CNG powered vehicles, but, as we talk about the future, let’s look at the past and see what we did to achieve our 26 percent decrease.

ENERGY

The City has retrofitted 6 million square feet and invested $60 million in energy efficiency since 2008.  We are saving over 22 million kWh of electricity every year as a result and our simple payback is less than 10 years.

The City purchases green power which accounts for half of its annual demand, making Houston the number one municipal purchaser of green power in the U.S.  The City uses 623,000 mWh of green power per year.

The City replaced the incandescent lamps at all of its 2,450 traffic signalized intersections with LEDs.  The City is saving over $3.6 million and reducing energy usage by 9,821,496 KWh per year.

We benchmarked over 300 city facilities and are monitoring their energy use intensity and we have completed 23 LEED certified building projects, with another four projects in the pipeline for 2014.

TRANSPORTATION

METRO Rail:  We are currently expanding our light-rail infrastructure, adding three new light-rail lines.  Late last year, a 5.3 mile extension of the existing Main Street Line opened to the public.

Once all new lines are open, Houston’s rail will expand from 7.5 miles to 39 miles.  With this $4 billion investment, the expanded light-rail system will be an essential element of the city’s plans to meet the transportation and environmental challenges of today and tomorrow.

In addition, we operate 400 diesel-hybrid electric buses which account for one-third of the fleet.

Hybrid and Electric Vehicles:  The City of Houston has the third largest municipal hybrid fleet in the US.  Hybrids now constitute more than 50 percent of the light-duty fleet.

We have converted 15 Toyota Prius hybrids to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.  Most recently, the city purchased 27 Nissan LEAF battery electric vehicles and we are purchasing another 10 in 2014.

Each of these vehicles is estimated to save the city $7,000 in fuel and maintenance over a 3 year period.  We estimate that the current fleet of 27 Nissan LEAFs will accrue $110,000 in annual savings compared to internal combustion engine vehicles.

The City has also created an online “green” car sharing program for municipal vehicles.  Houston FleetShare is a motor pool using electric vehicles and hybrids, resulting in a 34 percent decrease in the size of the City fleet; 35,000 gallons of fuel savings; and reduced emissions.

Bike Share:  The City started a bike share program last year with over 250 bikes and 30 kiosks throughout downtown and adjacent neighborhoods.  Houston B-cycle has had over 55,000 checkouts and 180,000 miles have been ridden in the first 9 months.

Bayou Greenways 2020:  The Bayou Greenways 2020 program will add 1,500 acres of new and equitably distributed green spaces that can also serve the function of flood control and storm water quality enhancement.  The program will also complete 150 miles of continuous all-weather hike and bike trails that will meander through those greenways, greatly enhancing quality of life, and reducing vehicle miles traveled.

WASTE

In 2008, the recycling rate for the City of Houston was a very low 2.6 percent.  There are a number of reasons for that low number, unique in some respects to Houston.  Our current recycling rate has grown to 8 percent, plus we now are composting yard and tree waste thus increasing our overall diversion rate to 22 percent.  And this past year we have expanded single stream recycling to 70 percent of residents.

Having analyzed this data, though, we are not satisfied and thus are actively engaged in the procurement process to seek a better, more innovative approach.

We are currently working with the private sector and Bloomberg Philanthropies on a unique commingled waste program that could divert 75 percent of the mixed municipal solid waste to reuse/recycling, composting, and clean fuel processes.  Assuming we are successful in securing an approach that is feasible, we will reduce 3.72 metric tons of carbon equivalent per ton of municipal solid waste diverted, not including significant reductions from vehicle miles traveled as a result of route optimization.

The City has committed and invested in many programs that reduce cost, improve efficiencies, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.  We are more energized than ever to continue our work in becoming a more resilient city and prepare for changes to our climate.

Houston has proven that it can maintain its title as the energy capital of the world while at the same time pursuing green policies that lift our reputation as a world leader in sustainability.

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Serving since January 2, 2010, Annise D. Parker has been elected as the Mayor of Houston three times.  She is Houston’s 61st Mayor and one of only two women to hold the City’s highest elected office.  In 2010, Time Magazine named Mayor Parker one the 100 most influential people in the world.  Mayor Annise Parker is a Steering Committee Member of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and serves on President Barack Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.  She is also on the advisory board of Small Business Today Magazine.  For more information, go to www.houstontx.gov/mayor/.

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