Rural Resources for States, Local Governments, and K-12 School Districts

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The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs Office provides a starting point for rural communities seeking to achieve significant energy and cost savings through energy efficiency by featuring existing technical assistance resources; information on how these resources are relevant to rural communities; and applicable examples, case studies, and success stories.

The United States Census Bureau defines “rural” as an area that encompasses all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area. According to this definition, rural areas take up 97% of the United States’ land, yet only account for about 19.3% of the nation’s population (about 60 million people). Compared to non-rural areas, rural communities are more isolated geographically and face a number of common characteristics, such as lower household income, lower population and population density, older housing age and type, higher dependence on propane and fuel oil for heating, and widespread use of investor owned utilities, commonly known as electric cooperatives, for energy services. 

Initiatives

Weatherization Assistance Program

Overview

DOE's Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) provides funding, training, and technical assistance to weatherize low-income homes for states, territories, the District of Columbia, and Indian tribes. WAP activities are often coordinated with other federal and state funds to provide comprehensive weatherization services. The WAP Grantees generally provide weatherization services to low-income homes through a network of local organizations (Subgrantees), and weatherization is available nationwide. WAP also supports a network of training centers and trainers that offer comprehensive energy efficiency and building science training courses and certifications.

Why is WAP relevant to rural communities?

Many households in rural communities have a higher median energy burden compared to more metropolitan areas. When Weatherization services are combined with other community or energy-related programs, such as the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the resulting benefits can make a lasting impact for the residents. Weatherization helps alleviate the heavy energy burden on low-income households and assists them in becoming more self-sufficient. Weatherization measures:

  • Result in an average energy savings of $283 or more per year per weatherized household on a national basis; savings can be higher if electric baseload measures (e.g., lighting, refrigerators) are upgraded and are generally higher in cold climates
  • “Lock” into the home and continue to save money and energy every year
  • Improve health and safety by eliminating energy-related health and safety concerns including combustion hazards
  • Employ crew members and others who live in the communities they serve
  • Support local vendors and small businesses that provide much of the materials and equipment.

Weatherization returns $2.78 in non-energy health and household related benefits for every $1.00 invested in WAP. Non-energy benefits represent tremendous benefits for families whose homes receive Weatherization services. After weatherization, families have homes that are more livable, resulting in fewer missed days of work (i.e., sick days, doctor visits), and have decreased out-of-pocket medical expenses by an average of $514. The total health and household-related benefits for each home is $14,148.

Local Subgrantee organizations provide experienced, trained weatherization crews and follow national quality standards to ensure effective weatherization services. The WAP Subgrantees often implement complimentary community programs with other funding sources, ensuring comprehensive services are available to low-income rural families. Local governments can coordinate efforts with the existing programs by contacting their local WAP Subgrantee.

Resources

DOE posts all official documents developed by DOE to the WAP website. This includes, but is not limited to:

Examples

  • Starting in November 2018, Washington State’s Department of Commerce launched a $5 million capital allocation for rural rehabilitation to provide low-interest home repair loans (up to $40,000) in designated rural areas in the state. This program will provide the resources to address crucial repairs to prepare homes for the weatherization work.
  • The Southeastern Vermont Community Action organization, a Vermont Weatherization Subgrantee, is partnering with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance to install a community solar array to help reduce the high energy burdens of approximately 50 low-income households in their service area. This initiative supports their ongoing Weatherization Assistance Program and LIHEAP programs.
State Energy Program

Overview

DOE’s State Energy Program (SEP) provides funding and technical assistance to states, territories, and the District of Columbia to enhance energy security, advance state-led energy initiatives, and maximize energy and dollar savings. SEP emphasizes the state’s role as the decision maker and administrator for program activities within the state that are tailored to their unique resources, delivery capacity, and energy goals.

Why is SEP relevant to rural communities?

The funds provided to states may be used for initiatives in rural communities that can increase energy savings, and thus save money. Residents in rural communities should contact their State Energy Office to see what kinds of SEP-funded programs or opportunities are available. For a comprehensive look at SEP projects currently underway, visit the WIP Project Map.

Examples

  • Alaska uses SEP funds to engage rural communities in energy efficiency planning and implementation and assists in securing financing to complete energy efficiency projects. The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and Alaska Energy Authority are also partnering with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to establish a program to “kick-start” energy efficiency projects in smaller public facilities located in remote, underserved areas of Alaska.
  • Arkansas is developing a scalable, sustainable energy efficiency program that reaches residential rural electric cooperative customers without placing cost burdens on non-participating customers.
  • Colorado uses SEP funds to administer the Colorado Agricultural Energy Program, which provides energy audits and other services to agricultural producers (primarily powered irrigators and dairies).  Program participants receive a free energy audit, a preliminary renewable energy assessment, technical assistance, energy coaching, and support for financing and implementing projects. The program plans to expand to 60 more producers and is expected to generate more than $4.5 million in savings in only five years.
  • Idaho accepts applications from rural communities that want to save energy in existing public buildings through the Government Leading by Example program. Approved applicants receive a building energy audit that identifies energy saving opportunities and may qualify for some cost-share funding on energy efficient retrofits. Idaho also assists the applicant in finding additional funding and other resources to complete identified energy related projects.
  • Kansas partners with the Kansas State University Engineering Extension to provide assistance to small businesses operating in rural areas to apply for financial aid from USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) through the Small Business Energy Program.
  • Maine is expanding access to and participation in energy efficiency finance programs, such as Efficiency Maine, in rural communities throughout the state that have high energy costs and are dependent on petroleum fuels for space heating.
  • Missouri works with various parties, including agricultural organizations, poultry growers, confined animal feeding operations, landfill operators, and utilities to identify opportunities to use bioenergy resources. Missouri also conducts outreach and assistance efforts to encourage Missouri's agricultural operators and small businesses to apply for funding under USDA’s energy efficiency and renewable energy funding programs, such as REAP.
  • Ohio administers multiple energy assistance programs, such as the Home Energy Assistance Summer and Winter Crisis Programs, which leverage WAP funds to assist low-income residents with energy bills in extreme seasonal weather.
Better Buildings Challenge

Overview

The Better Buildings Challenge (BBC) is a leadership challenge to state and local leaders, CEOs, university presidents, manufacturers, and multifamily housing and building owners to commit their organizations to 20% energy savings or more in 10 years and to lead the market by sharing their solutions.

Why is the Better Buildings Challenge relevant to rural communities?

Some BBC partner states, cities, counties and school districts represent significant rural populations. More than 1,000 solutions developed through the Challenge are available on the Better Buildings Solution Center and can help rural communities across the country improve their building energy performance.

Examples

All examples provided are partners in the Better Buildings Challenge.

States

State of North Carolina

Local Governments

Hall County, Georgia

Kauai County, Hawaii

  • Population: 67,091
  • Better Buildings Portfolio: 360,000 sq. ft.
  • Number of facilities: 156

Placer County, California

Thurston County, Washington

  • Population: 252,264
  • Better Buildings Portfolio: 680,000 million sq. ft.

K-12 School Districts

Camas School DistrictCamas, Washington

Douglas County School District Gardnerville, Nevada

Fort Atkinson School District – Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

Garnet Valley School District – Glen Mills, Pennsylvania

  • Number of Students: ~5,000
  • Portfolio: 800,000 sq. ft.
  • Number of facilities: 5

River Trails School District 26 – Mt. Prospect, Illinois

  • Number of Students: ~1,500
  • Portfolio: 220,000 sq. ft.
  • Number of facilities: 3
    • 28% energy savings portfolio-wide as of 2016 from a 2013 baseline. River Trails School District exceeded its goal to achieve a 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2026 in 2015, achieving a 23% reduction 11 years ahead of schedule. In 2016, the district set a new goal to reduce consumption 30% by 2026, demonstrating its commitment to continuous improvement.
    • The River Trails Middle School Showcase Project features expected energy savings of 15% and annual cost savings of $11,000 across 109,000 sq. ft.

Xenia Community Schools – Xenia, Ohio

Remote Alaskan Communities Energy Efficiency Competition

Overview

The Remote Alaskan Communities Energy Efficiency Competition (RACEE) empowers remote Alaskan communities to develop reliable, affordable solutions using energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. In 2015, DOE launched the $4 million initiative which meets some of the challenges posed by Alaska’s unique energy profile. Rural Alaskans face high energy costs; saving energy helps free up household budgets for food, medicine, and other necessities.

Why is the RACEE Competition relevant to rural communities?

DOE implemented the RACEE Competition to gather information related to community energy needs, implementation challenges, partnership needs, competition design, and data collection in rural Alaskan communities. This was followed by a three-phased approach to improve energy use in remote communities:

  • Phase 1 – Pledges: 64 remote Alaska communities and Alaska Native villages pledged to reduce energy use 15% (per capita) by 2020, and gain access to a peer network (September 2015–April 2016).
  • Phase 2 – Technical Assistance: 13 communities received technical assistance engagements to gather baseline energy data and develop plans to implement energy efficiency improvements (April 2016–October 2016).
  • Phase 3 – Implementation and Peer Exchange: Seven communities are working to implement energy efficiency projects through cooperative agreements (October 2016–April 2021)

In the first phase of the competition, 64 remote Alaskan communities with population ranging from 34 to 3,200, pledged to reduce per-capita energy use by 15% by 2020. Through these pledges, DOE heard first-hand from remote Alaskan communities and Native villages about the impacts of high energy costs, which have been driven up to unsustainable levels by the limited accessibility of their remote locations.

Resources

The RACEE Peer Exchange Network, an information sharing platform for the 64 Community Efficiency Champions of the RACEE Competition, provides an archive of monthly technical webinars on technologies and concepts for rural communities by local subject matter experts.

Technical webinars are available on the following topics:

Examples

The second phase of the competition provided funding for tailored technical assistance for 13 communities to measure energy use and create energy efficiency plans.

Seven communities are implementing projects as part of the final phase of the competition. These communities worked to develop plans to reduce their energy consumption in ways that support more affordable and reliable energy in the future, are effective in preserving their environment, replicable in other Alaska communities struggling to conserve expensive fuel, and above all, aligned with community priorities, so changes implemented are sustainable. The communities are:

  • City of Galena
  • Village of Holy Cross
  • Village of Kiana
  • Village of Klawock
  • City of Noorvik
  • City of Port Lions
  • City of Ruby
USDA Office of Rural Development

Overview

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Office of Rural Development operates over 50 financial assistance programs for a variety of rural applications intended to improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. Programs are available for a variety of different sectors, including businesses, communities and non-profits, individuals, lenders, tribes, utilities, and developers.

Why is the USDA Office of Rural Development relevant to rural communities?

USDA Rural Development offers a variety of programs across many topic areas relevant to rural communities interested in implementing energy efficiency programs, including electric programs, energy programs, cooperative programs, and water and environmental programs, among others. View a list of programs.

Many of the energy programs offered may be especially applicable, as they offer funding to complete energy audits, provide renewable energy development assistance, make energy efficiency improvements, and install renewable energy systems in rural communities.

Resources

Rural Development Energy Programs

Other Resources

Topics of Interest

Energy Planning

What is it?

The development of a long-term energy plan is a foundational step for improving energy performance in all jurisdictions, including rural communities. Strategic energy planning helps states, local governments, and K-12 school districts focus efforts and actions toward a shared energy vision.

Why is energy planning relevant to rural communities?

Existing DOE resources and best practices can help rural states, local governments, and K-12 school districts develop energy plans that maximize energy savings, economic growth, and public health benefits. 

Resources

  • Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Resources for Rural K-12 School Energy Managers and Educators – This document links to resources for K-12 school districts and provides some best practices for implementing energy efficiency strategies in rural schools. These resources can help states, local school administrators, school boards, and facilities personnel make prudent decisions around the use of operating funds, capital budgets, and other financing mechanisms for energy efficiency improvements as a part of their master facilities management plan.
  • Energy Efficiency Resources to Support State Energy Planning – State and local governments across the United States are focused on meeting a variety of energy, economic development, and environmental goals. Energy efficiency improvements can meet these needs while cost-effectively saving consumers and businesses nearly 741,000 gigawatt hours of electricity between 2016 and 2035, which is equal to about 16% of the electricity use projected in 2035 in the United States. They can also provide air quality improvements, local jobs, and increased energy system reliability.
  • Guide to Community Energy Strategic Planning – This guide introduces the Community Energy Strategic Plan (CESP) approach, a step-by-step process for creating a robust strategic energy plan for state and local governments and communities that can help save money, create local jobs, and improve our national security. The guide offers tools and tips to complete each step and highlights examples from successful planning efforts around the country. Local governments and community stakeholders can use the CESP framework to build on initial energy successes by moving from single projects and programs to a comprehensive, long-term energy strategy that delivers benefits for years to come.
  • Energy Efficiency: Savings Opportunities and Benefits – Explore how energy efficiency programs can support state energy planning. This website provides an at-a-glance look at key considerations for including energy efficiency strategies in state planning, including current activity at the national and state levels, supportive state and local policies, best practices, energy savings examples and potential, cost-effectiveness, and DOE support.
  • Low-income Energy Affordability Data Tool – This tool assists communities in making better energy policy decisions and program planning by improving their understanding of low-income household characteristics. It provides interactive state-, city-, and county-level graphs and data on low-income housing characteristics, fuel type, and average energy expenditure and burden.

Examples:

  • Idaho: Since the release of the 2012 Idaho Energy Plan, the Idaho Office of Energy and Mineral Resources has worked in partnership with local stakeholders to implement the plan as part of the state’s focus on keeping energy costs low. One priority is the adoption of a statewide Government Leading by Example (GLBE) Program to help officials in rural communities reduce energy use in public buildings.
  • Iowa: Iowa’s Energy Office solicited extensive stakeholder and public input upon the release of the draft Iowa Energy Plan that was released in 2016. The state held workshops focused on energy efficiency and economic development to emphasize opportunities in rural and urban communities. 
  • Minnesota: Minnesota’s 2025 Energy Action Plan identifies priority strategies with actionable steps and progress indicators for each strategy through 2025. One example is a state-led program to integrate energy efficiency into local economic development plans by creating local energy datasets, case studies, and planning tools to help over fifty smaller, rural communities align energy goals with comprehensive community plans.
Energy Efficiency Financing

What is it?

Energy efficiency financing involves borrowing funds to pay for the upfront cost of energy upgrades. Energy efficiency upgrades can be viewed as an investment because they frequently yield energy cost savings and a competitive return on investment. Instead of waiting for grant funding or using public funds, financing allows for immediate investment in new technologies that make buildings, businesses, and homes more comfortable and efficient.  

Why is energy efficiency financing relevant to rural communities?

With limited public funding available to support efficiency upgrades at public facilities and on private properties (e.g., residential, industrial, and agricultural properties), financing is often used to generate immediate energy savings, local job creation, and economic development. State and local governments play an important role in enabling financing products that can serve rural communities. Through state and local leadership and partnerships with the private sector, there are numerous examples of how energy efficiency financing has served rural communities.  

Resources

  • Financing Energy Upgrades for K-12 School Districts – This guide focuses on clean energy financing options for school administrators, facility managers, and other K-12 school decision makers who are considering investments in high performance school projects. It explicitly focuses on comprehensive energy upgrades, those that involve multiple measures and are targeted toward achieving significant energy savings.
  • Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP) – RESP helps rural families and small businesses achieve cost savings by providing loans to qualified consumers to implement durable cost-effective energy efficiency measures.
  • Revolving Loan Funds – Multiple state energy offices offer low-interest loans specifically designed to serve hard-to-reach small and rural markets. Search for available revolving loan funds in various states.
  • On-Bill Financing – On-bill financing provides property owners with the option to repay the cost of an efficiency upgrade through their utility bill. This tool has been deployed in rural cooperatives and has been particularly impactful for residential properties.
  • Commercial PACE – Commercial property assessed clean energy (C-PACE) is a tool that can finance energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades on commercial, industrial, and in many states, agricultural property. C-PACE allows for long-term, low-interest financing that offers business owners an opportunity for a cash-positive building upgrade.  
  • Bond Financing – Rural communities often issue bonds to finance public facility and infrastructure upgrades to support economic development. In many instances these bond-financed projects can result in the deployment of high-efficiency technology and reductions in energy waste.
  • Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) – ESPC is a contracting and financing method that provides upfront financing for energy efficiency projects that is then repaid over time by the cost savings resulting from the upgrades. The mechanism enables public-sector organizations facing aging infrastructure, rising energy costs, and limited budgets, including those in small and rural communities, to redirect project dollar savings toward critical building and infrastructure improvements.

Examples

  • Arkansas: The Pay as You Save (PAYS) Model (page 41) is in use in multiple locations, including rural Arkansas. In partnership with the Ouachita Electric Cooperative Utility, the PAYS model uses an on-bill tariff to recover the cost of efficiency upgrades made on residential properties. Single-family homes that benefited from upgrades have, on average, observed a net electricity bill savings of around $27 per month.
  • Minnesota: Property Assessed Clean Energy provided financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades, such as solar PV in Montana.
  • Montana: Montana found an innovative way to overcome limited staff and budget resources and implement ESPC by creating a virtual tool to support state and local practitioners of ESPC.
  • Nebraska: Nebraska’s Dollar and Energy Savings Loan Program has existed for over 25 years. Through partnerships with more than 265 lenders, the program provides low-interest loans to local governments, single-family homes, and farms and ranches, among other property types.
  • Tennessee: In 2000, Williamson County School District undertook a $5.7 million project to upgrade aging equipment across 27 school facilities. The project was financed with a general obligation bond, which helped the Williamson County School District manage its debt, execute much needed upgrades, and reduce long-term operating costs.
Energy Data Management

What is it?

Whether one owns a single facility or owns and operates a portfolio of facilities, having access to and utilizing energy data is foundational to understanding and managing the performance of facility assets using energy. 

Why is energy data management relevant to rural communities?

WIP has a number of resources to help rural communities establish a data-driven approach to energy management.  To learn more and take action, check out our “Access and Use Energy Data” portal on the State and Local Solution Center and access available and forthcoming resources below.

Resources

  • Designing a Benchmarking Plan – This guide provides a framework for developing an internal benchmarking plan including details, examples, tips, and tools for each of the steps in the benchmarking planning process.
  • ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager – Interactive resource management tool that enables tracking and assessing energy and water use for one facility or across the entire portfolio of buildings, all in a secure online environment.  It can help facility managers implement every step of an energy management program, from setting a baseline and identifying which buildings to target to setting goals and tracking improvements.
  • ENERGY STAR Guidelines for Energy Management – A step-by-step road map for continuous improvement, based on best practices from the nation's leaders in energy management.
  • Energy Data Access: A Blueprint for Action Toolkit – Showcases a collection of best practices from the Energy Data Accelerator that enabled cities, utilities, and other stakeholders to overcome whole-building data access barriers.
  • Energy Data Management Manual for the Wastewater Treatment Sector – The purpose of this document is to describe the benefits of energy data management, explain how it can help drive savings when linked to a strong energy management program, and provide clear, step-by-step guidance for wastewater treatment plants on how to appropriately track energy performance.
  • Regional Operations & Maintenance (O&M) Guide for High Performance Schools and Public Buildings in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic – This resource provides guidance to state and local jurisdictions to ensure the continued performance of new buildings that are built to green building standards, as well as put existing buildings—regardless of age—on the pathway to becoming energy-saving high performance facilities. The guide contains O&M procedures that will help buildings reduce their operating costs, as well as lead to healthier indoor air, improved student and staff comfort, reduced water consumption, improved environmental stewardship, and overall improvements in productivity.
  • Energy Data Management Guide (Forthcoming) – This guide will provide public sector organizations with a seven-step approach to establish a robust and sustainable energy data management program—the foundation for strategic energy management. The user friendly platform is designed around three central pillars – Generate Buy-in, Build a Solid Foundation, and Hardwire Energy Management – and the simple interface will enable users to easily access proven strategies, data management tools and resources, customizable template and worksheets, and relevant examples and case studies drawn from across the public sector.
  • Benchmarking and Transparency: Resources for State and Local Leaders – This resource guide provides state and local leaders with streamlined access to key, existing resources for developing and implementing high-impact building energy benchmarking and transparency programs in their jurisdictions.

Examples

The following states, local governments, and K-12 school districts are tracking energy data across their portfolio of energy using assets or have shared data regarding the energy performance of a specific facility within their portfolio. Examples provided below are from partners in the Better Buildings Challenge unless otherwise noted.

States

State of Mississippi (Non-BBC Partner)

  • Population:  2.9 million
  • Number of facilities: 4 institutes of higher learning (IHLs)
    • The Mississippi Implementation Model: Advancing Energy Efficiency in Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) details how, with support from a State Energy Program Competitive Award, the Mississippi Development Authority launched an effort to develop a strategy for assessing the performance of buildings and prioritizing energy efficiency retrofit projects.

State of North Carolina

Local Governments

Hall County, Georgia

  • Population: 179,684
  • Portfolio: 1 million sq. ft.
  • Number of facilities: 38

Kauai County, Hawaii

  • Population: 67,091
  • Portfolio: 360,000 sq. ft.
  • Number of facilities: 156

Placer County, California

K-12 School Districts

Camas School District – Camas, Washington

Douglas County School District – Gardnerville, Nevada

Fort Atkinson School District – Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

Garnet Valley School District – Glen Mills, Pennsylvania

  • Number of Students: ~5,000
  • Portfolio: 800,000 sq. ft.
  • Number of facilities: 5

River Trails School District 26 – Mt. Prospect, Illinois

  • Number of Students: ~1,500
  • Portfolio: 220,000 sq. ft.
  • Number of facilities: 3
    • 28% energy savings portfolio-wide as of 2016 from a 2013 baseline. River Trails School District exceeded its goal to achieve a 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2026 in 2015, achieving a 23% reduction 11 years ahead of schedule. In 2016, the district set a new goal to reduce consumption 30% by 2026, demonstrating its commitment to continuous improvement.
    • The River Trails Middle School Showcase Project features expected energy savings of 15% and annual cost savings of $11,000 across 109,000 sq. ft.

Xenia Community Schools – Xenia, Ohio

Outdoor Lighting

What is it?

Across the nation, outdoor lighting helps communities create a safe environment for residents and businesses to live, work, and play. State and local taxpayer dollars support this vital public service, either through direct, municipal ownership of the lighting systems or through service agreements with utility companies. Local governments are also responsible for roadway lighting, which often includes freeway, interstate, bridge, and tunnel lighting.

Why is outdoor lighting relevant to rural communities?

Outdoor lighting consumes a significant amount of energy—about 1.3 quadrillion Btu annually—costing about $10 billion per year, according to a DOE report. Rural communities utilize outdoor lighting for public infrastructure, roadways, and agricultural spaces. There are about 50 million roadway lights consuming this energy across the United States, with an estimate 10 to 13 million lights in rural areas. Faced with already high energy costs, the importance of energy and cost efficient outdoor lighting in rural communities is paramount.

In the last five years, a number of municipalities have switched to new LED technologies that can reduce energy costs by approximately 50% over conventional lighting technologies and provide additional savings of 20 to 40% with advance lighting controls.

Beyond cost and energy savings, the higher efficiency of LED lights provides other benefits, including environmental benefits that can help cities reach their goals, reduce light pollution from less light being directed into the night sky due to optical control, and increase perceived public safety because of improved visibility through better color rendering and more uniform lighting distribution.

Resources

Examples

  • Kansas: The Mid-American Regional Council’s (MARC) Smart Lights Initiative was designed to help local governments in the Kansas City area install high-efficiency street lighting technologies. The initiative has engaged communities in the region through a partnership called the Smart Lights Coalition, consisting of 25 cities with populations under 35,000, MARC, and local utility providers. 25,000 outdoor lights have been committed to the initiative with expected annual energy savings of 8,712,500 kWh and annual cost savings $932,238.
Wastewater Infrastructure

What is it?

Wastewater treatment is a vital part of any healthy community and wastewater treatment facilities are often the largest and most energy-intensive facilities operated by rural communities. Energy use can account for as much as 10% of a local government’s total annual operating budget, and the energy used by water and wastewater utilities accounts for 35% of typical U.S. municipal energy budgets, according to an EPA report. A significant amount of this municipal energy use occurs at water and wastewater treatment facilities; with pumps, motors, and other equipment operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, water and waste­water facilities can be among the largest consumers of energy in a community.

Why is wastewater infrastructure relevant to rural communities?

Across the country, municipal wastewater treatment plants are estimated to consume more than 30 billion kWh per year of electricity, which equates to about $2 billion in annual electric costs. Rural communities have found energy management at wastewater treatment plants can significantly cut operating costs, allowing for taxpayer dollars to be spent on other priorities.

Resources

Energy Data Management Manual for the Wastewater Treatment Sector – This guide describes the benefits of energy data management, explains how it can help drive savings when linked to a strong energy management program, and provides clear, step-by-step guidance to wastewater treatment plants on how to appropriately track energy performance.

Energy Savings Performance Contracting for Water Resource Recovery Facilities – This guide introduces ESPC as a way to increase energy efficiency and upgrade facilities in particular government sectors. The resource provides critical detail for wastewater treatment facility owners to consider ESPC as an option and core resources to take the next step to initiate a project.

Low- and No-Cost Energy Efficiency Measures (Forthcoming) – These low- and no-cost energy efficiency measures were recommended by U.S. DOE Industrial Assessment Centers and implemented at various water resource recovery facilities, averaging less than 2-year payback periods.

Measure Planning Workbooks (Forthcoming)– The SWIFt Measure Planning Workbook are tools to assist wastewater treatment facilities in evaluating multiple energy conservation and resource recovery measure proposals in a side-by-side comparison. There are 23 different forthcoming Measure Planning Workbooks available:

  • Technologies Measures
    • Blower Technologies + Optimization
    • Dissolved Oxygen (DO) Control
    • Emerging Diffuser Technologies
    • Membrane Bioreactors (MBR)
    • Pumping System Technologies + Optimization
    • Pure Oxygen (Pure Ox) Systems
    • Solar Photovoltaic (PV)
    • Ultraviolet (UV) Disinfection Systems
  • Management Approaches Measures 
    • Energy Assessment
    • Energy Conservation Programs
    • Energy Management Systems
    • Infiltration/Inflow (I/I) Studies
    • Rate Structure Management
    • Real-time Monitoring & Control
  • Process Improvements Measures
    • Ammonia-based Aeration Control (ABAC)
    • Chemically-Enhanced Primary Treatment (CEPT)
    • Modifying System Operations Seasonally
  • Resource Recovery Measures
    • Anaerobic Digestion
    • Biosolids Energy Recovery
    • Combined Heat & Power (CHP)
    • Heat Recovery
    • Inline Hydropower
    • Onsite Water Reuse

Initiative

DOE’s Sustainable Wastewater Infrastructure of the Future (SWIFt) Accelerator— SWIFt is a three-year initiative launched in 2016 to accelerate a pathway toward a sustainable wastewater infrastructure.  The 70+ SWIFt partners across 25 states, including wastewater treatment plants in small and rural communities, will strive to adopt innovative and best-practice approaches in data management, energy and resource recovery technologies and practices, and financing to improve facility energy efficiency by at least 30%. In addition to the resources listed above, SWIFt is planning additional tools and resources to help wastewater facilities improve their infrastructure through measure evaluation, financing, and planning.

Examples

  • Medina County, Ohio: The county is using biogas recovery to generate energy on-site and reduce energy costs at its wastewater treatment plant.
  • Orange Water and Sewage Authority, North Carolina: The sewage authority in North Carolina achieved 40% annual energy savings and $342,000 annual cost savings by implementing a major renovation of the aeration and mixing systems at the plant.
  • Talbot County, Maryland: Located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the county produces more energy for the biosolids treatment facility than the facility consumes by deploying solar and wind technology.
  • Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation, Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation utilized compliance maintenance annual reports to track energy use in Wisconsin’s wastewater treatment plants as a means to justify energy-saving infrastructure investments.