Sustainability Message From OEQ Director Larry Falkin

Jan. 7

Letter from the Director

As we move into the New Year, I have assembled my 10 favorite Cincinnati sustainability accomplishments of 2012, and my forecasts for 10 things we will accomplish in 2013. It's been a good year for sustainability, and the year ahead certainly looks promising.

2012 Cincinnati Sustainability Accomplishments

1. 100% Renewable Electricity - The City of Cincinnati completed the "electricity aggregation" process in 2012, buying electricity in bulk on behalf of approximately 60,000 residential and small commercial accounts. The result was 100% renewable electricity and savings of 21% compared to Duke Energy's price. By switching 60,000 accounts to renewable energy, Cincinnati's carbon footprint was reduced by approximately 550,000 tons per year. That's the equivalent of taking 104,000 cars off the road.

2. Food Waste Composting - In 2012, the first food waste composting facility located in a major American city opened in Cincinnati. Compost Cincy leases a portion of an old landfill site from the City. They are on track to compost 40,000 tons of food waste in their first year of operation. This conserves landfill space, returns valuable nutrients to the soil, and reduces Cincinnati's carbon footprint by 28,000 tons per year.

3. Home Energy Retrofits - The Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance completed energy retrofits on more than 1000 buildings across the region in 2012. Fueled initially by federal stimulus funds, but moving aggressively to a self sustaining business model, GCEA has saved its clients more than $500,000 per year on energy bills, created more than 50 jobs, and added more than $20 million to the local economy.

4. Green Buildings - Cincinnati continued to be among the nation's leaders in LEED certified green buildings in 2012. A platinum certification for Taft High School (Way to go, CPS!!!) was among the highlights of 9 commercial projects and 45 residential projects certified in Cincinnati in 2012. The City of Cincinnati applied for Energy Star Certification for the One-Stop Permit Center in 2012, a first for the City and one of only 5 energy star certified municipal buildings in Ohio. More City buildings are expected to become energy star certified in 2013.

5. Bike Lanes - In 2012, Cincinnati was recognized as a Bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. The City's network of bike lanes, bike paths and sharrows grew by 6 miles in 2012, with new additions along Riverside Drive, Madison, Ludlow, Jefferson, Mitchell, Spring Grove, and Dana. Implementation of the City's bike plan, coupled with active promotion of biking by Queen City Bike, MOBO Bike Coop and others, has resulted in a rapidly growing local bike community.

6. Car Sharing - In 2012, Zipcar became Cincinnati's first car sharing company, with vehicles located in Downtown and Over-The-Rhine. Targeting people who rarely use their cars, or who could use transit to commute downtown but for the occasional workday meeting, Zipcar makes it easy to use a car without owning a car. Each Zipcar replaces about 19 privately owned vehicles, and because Zipcar members tend to walk, bike and bus more, Zipcar's presence in Cincinnati is expected to reduce car travel by more than 100,000 miles per year.

7. City-Owned Solar - The City of Cincinnati doubled its solar energy generating capacity in 2012, from approximately 500 kW to 1 mW. This was accomplished through the installation of solar panels on the roofs of the College Hill Recreation Center, Beekman Garage, and One-Stop Permit Center. The City's solar panels reduce the City's carbon footprint by about 1,000 tons per year.

8. Privately Owned Solar - Burke, Inc., a Cincinnati-based marketing research firm became a solar leader this year when they installed a 350 kW solar canopy over the parking lot at their LEED Gold headquarters on 7th St., downtown. The canopy provides shaded parking for employees, and supplies about 30% of the company's electrical needs.

9. Green Umbrella - Cincinnati's regional sustainability alliance, Green Umbrella, continued to grow rapidly in membership and influence in 2012. Based on the "collective impact" model, Green Umbrella is proving that sustainability efforts in Cincinnati can go farther faster if we all work together. Green Umbrella's membership now includes more than 175 organizations and businesses that are active in some aspect of sustainability, and GU has convened 8 task teams that are facilitating regional progress on energy, waste reduction, transportation, green space protection, outdoor recreation, and other key topics.

10. Prioritizing Green - In 2012, Cincinnati adopted a new comprehensive plan, called Plan Cincinnati, and one of the five primary initiatives at the core of the plan is to "Sustain - Steward resources and ensure long-term viability." Also in 2012, Cincinnati embraced a new priority driven budget process. One of the 6 priorities that drove the budget process was "Sustainable Built & Natural Environment." Both the comprehensive plan and the budget process used broad citizen input in setting priorities. That sustainability was included in both lists shows that "green" has become mainstream in Cincinnati.

Anticipated 2013 Sustainability Accomplishments

1. No-Cost Residential Solar - Imagine if someone would come and install solar panels on your roof at no cost to you, and then sell you green energy off your own roof for less than the cost of energy from the grid. This may not be a fantasy. Residential "solar leases" and "power purchase agreements" are being used in various parts of the country to install solar on homes at no cost to the home owner. Green Umbrella's renewable energy team is working hard to bring this concept to Cincinnati. I'm predicting they'll succeed in 2012.

2. Bus Rapid Transit - Q: How can you get the performance of a light rail system for a fraction of the cost. A: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). To get the maximum number of "choice riders" to use a transit system, the focus has to be on the riding experience. Travel has to be fast, convenient, and comfortable. BRT delivers with traffic signal prioritization (traffic lights automatically turn green when the vehicle approaches); platform boarding; modern wifi enabled vehicles; and a reduced number of stops along the way. Cincinnati is scheduled to get its first BRT line in 2013, with more to follow after that. Could this be the key to a regional transit system, with a regional funding base? Let's hope so.

3. Reduced Trash - Most of the things that we call trash are actually valuable resources that, if separated, could be sold in existing commodities markets. But instead, we mix them together and set them at the curb, and the City spends more than $100/ton to collect, haul and dispose of these commodities. As part of the 2013 City budget, City Council has authorized a series of changes to the City's trash program. Every eligible household will receive a wheeled trash cart, similar to the recycling cart, and the City will pick up only the amount of trash that fits in the cart. For households that recycle (currently more than 70%), this will be no problem. Households that currently generate excessive trash will have an incentive to recycle, compost, and otherwise reduce the size of their weekly set outs. If the volume of trash goes down by 20%, it would save the City more than $2 million per year, conserve a lot of landfill space, and reduce our carbon footprint by 2,700 tons per year.

4. Bike Sharing - In a growing number of Cities, members of bike sharing services can pick up a bike where they are, return it at their destination, and pay little or nothing for each ride. A recently completed feasibility study identifies dozens of sites in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine that are well suited for bike-sharing. Bike sharing reduces unnecessary traffic congestion associated with short trips, reduces parking demand, improves air quality, saves fuel, and helps people get a bit of healthy exercise. If things go well, it may arrive in Cincinnati in 2013.

5. CNG Vehicles - Compressed Natural Gas burns a lot cleaner than gasoline or diesel, produces less carbon emissions, costs a lot less, and is domestically sourced. Unfortunately, there are no fueling facilities for CNG vehicles between Louisville and Columbus. But that's about to change. The City of Cincinnati has plans to build one or more CNG fueling stations this year, and to acquire a dozen or more CNG vehicles. This could be a significant step toward achieving the City's goal to eliminate the use of gasoline and diesel in City vehicles by 2025.

6. Financing Energy Improvements - Over the last several years, the City of Cincinnati has cut its utility bills by more than $1 million per year by making common sense improvements in the efficiency of it's buildings. In the private sector, some building owners are making similar improvements, but not enough of them. In Cincinnati alone, more than $100 million per year could be saved if all building owners made the energy improvements that make economic sense. One tool to help the private sector harvest these opportunities is something called Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE. PACE allows a building owner to get money for energy upgrades from the City, and to pay it back over time as a special property tax assessment (the same way we pay for sidewalks). The City's money, sourced from municipal bonds, comes with a very low interest rate, and repayment rates are very high because they can be enforced with a tax lien. With PACE financing, an investment in energy efficiency can be cash positive for the building owner in every year of the project. Cincinnati should enable PACE financing in 2013.

7. Yard Waste Collection - The City currently landfills about 6,000 tons of yard waste that is collected curbside from residents. That material could be composted, relieving landfill burden and returning valuable nutrients to the soil. The City's 2013 budget provides for separate bi-weekly yard waste collections starting April 1, 2013, and prohibits residents from mixing yard waste with trash after that date. OEQ applauds that decision.

8. City Renewable Energy Projects - Just as the City doubled it's solar energy generating capacity in 2012, it is likely to be redoubled (or more) in 2013. Solar projects currently under discussion total several megawatts in size. While it is likely that not all of these projects will come to fruition in 2013, there is good reason to expect a continued upward trend.

9. Streetcar - The streetcar will move from the drawing board to the streets in 2013, with physical construction scheduled to be well underway by the end of the year. The streetcar is an important tool for densifying the urban core. Even before construction has really started, the development boom in OTR is obvious to anyone who visits the neighborhood. The streetcar is an important tool in continuing the current explosive population growth in Downtown and OTR. Since urban residents tend to drive less and have more energy efficient lifestyles than their suburban counterparts, the growth in urban population will save energy and fuel, and reduce the City's carbon footprint.

10. Green Cincinnati Plan - Cincinnati's sustainability plan will turn 5 years old in 2013, and the progress that Cincinnati has made in those 5 years is incredible. We set out to reduce the City's carbon footprint 8% by 2012, and we actually reduced it 8.2% by 2012! Currently, hundreds of individuals are involved in charting the course for continued sustainability progress in the next 5 years. The new Green Cincinnati Plan will be unveiled in early 2013, and with Council's approval, will show the way toward more efficient use of natural resources, reduced dependence on fossil fuels, and a better quality of life for all Cincinnatians.

Larry Falkin, Director

City of Cincinnati, Office of Environmental Quality

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