Environment

Louisville’s new energy manager says the cleanest kilowatt hour is the one you never have to generate. 

The city hired Zach Tyler last year following in the footsteps of peer cities like Cincinnati. Both cities have goals to reduce their carbon footprint over the next decade.

Louisville is charting a path toward greenhouse gas reductions in line with the Paris Accords and working toward 100% clean electricity for government operations by 2030. 

Tyler estimates the city owns between 200 and 300 buildings, many of which are old and drafty. Not to mention, before he started the city was still using paper bills to handle its utility costs. 

So Tyler began by creating an online energy benchmarking platform that allows him to get a birds’ eye view of the city’s energy usage. With some basic operational improvements, he saved the city nearly $750,000. 

“I’ve been looking at just the really low hanging fruit of operational improvements,” he said. “It does create pretty substantial cost savings and, on the climate side, I mean the very cleanest kilowatt hour is the one you never even have to use.” 

The energy savings amount to a 7% reduction in energy use citywide, enough to power around 700 homes for a year, he said. 

A 2016 greenhouse gas inventory found about 80% of the community-wide emissions came from the energy used to heat, cool and power buildings. Generally speaking, improving energy efficiency is among the easiest ways for a city and its residents to lower their carbon footprint. It’s a cost-saving measure that is also good for the environment.

A lot of what Tyler did to save energy in the first year was changing the schedules of automated systems in the city’s largest buildings to reduce the run times on things like boilers, chillers, pumps and motors. 

“The really big element of that is facility setbacks and that’s all around the concept of: if the building is empty at night and no one is there, why run all the systems as if they are occupied?” he said. 

The city’s office of Advanced Planning and Sustainability is now drafting a proposal to re-invest the nearly $750,000 of savings in energy conservation. 

Similar funds in Cincinnati and Lexington have reinvested millions to make buildings more energy efficient. That means improvements like weatherizing buildings to make them less drafty, installing LED light bulbs and modernizing HVAC systems. 

“The intent starting out is that we could really leverage a lot of these easy operational improvements and some of the freed-up utility costs to finance some of the improvements we need to make in our facilities,” Tyler said. 

The Office of Advanced Planning and Sustainability plans to bring a draft proposal before the Metro Council some time this year. 

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.