Huntington Beach Implementing Model, Cutting-Edge Energy Efficiency Programs

LED streetlights illuminate a parking lot in Huntington Beach.

While large cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco get a lot of attention for their efforts in greening operations and infrastructure, smaller cities around the state of California have been quietly making strides in adopting and implementing innovative technologies and policies at the local level. One such innovative city is Huntington Beach. In order to detail the programs and technologies enabling this local success story, VerdeX was pleased to speak with Huntington Beach Energy Project Manager Aaron Klemm.

VerdeX: Huntington Beach has just been noted as a National Resource Defense Council “2010 Smarter City.” What is the significance of that recognition for the work you’re doing?

Klemm: Last year when NRDC did their smarter cities announcement, Huntington Beach was not on the list. I got a little concerned about that so I emailed them and said, “Hey, next time, send me the questionnaire.” It happened to be such that the things I was working on were things that they were asking about and wanted to highlight, like energy efficiency or renewables. Those are the main two topics that I work on here for the city.

VerdeX: What’s on the agenda of the energy manager for Huntington Beach?

Klemm: The Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grants, or EECBG program, is a big deal for every city that got an allocation. The projects that we’re doing with those funds are, first, geographic information system-based streetlight auditing—we have 13,000 streetlights that we pay $2 million per year for—to be sure we’re getting good value for what we spend there. Second, we spent a portion of the EECBG funds on a large-scale municipal solar feasibility study, design-to bridging-documents in bid support, plus entitlements. That means feasibility design, entitlements, environmental review, and bid support. We currently have a bid out to construct almost two megawatts of solar in phase one, with bids due on Aug. 26. That will be big, with about two-thirds solar car ports and the other third as rooftop installations. We’re hoping it’s a great project. On a very short time frame, about eight months, we went from nothing to hopefully being able to sign a construction power purchase agreement.

The last project is LED streetlights. LED streetlights are the big buzz right now. A lot of local governments are looking at LED. We had a portion of those funds go for LED street and area lights. Edison owns 90-plus percent of the streetlights in Huntington Beach, but for the ones that we own or control, we are doing some pretty cool things. One is in parks, where we’ve got an area light on either a streetlight-sized pole or a 14-foot pole. We are moving the city toward occupancy-sensored area lights, so that if people are not around we can drop the energy consumption and the light level and kill a couple birds with one stone. It enhances public safety because there’s always a base amount of light there, but if a cop is driving by in his squad car and there are lights on in a certain part of the park, they know that there are people moving around out there. If, at 2 a.m., the lights are on, they get some immediate diagnostic information to do their job. Then there are the obvious energy and maintenance benefits as well.

Additionally, our Main Street area is very popular. This last weekend was the U.S. Open, where probably 250,000 or 300,000 people showed up to hang out at the beach, plus our normal population. Policing in that area is a bit of a challenge with all of the very successful restaurants that serve alcohol. One of the things that only LED streetlights allow us to do is to change the light levels to fit specific circumstances. Restaurant owners would like to see inviting, attractive lighting anytime it’s dark. On the other hand, the police want to maintain public safety. We took the old-fashioned acorn globe-style streetlights and used an LED version with a controller so we can have three or more settings for different times of the week. So normal times, up until, say, 11:30 p.m. or 12:00 p.m., there would be normal, attractive light levels. But as the bars are letting out, the lights will run up to 100 percent, which will help police do their job. Throughout the rest of the city we’re looking at making our energy infrastructure, like streetlights, smarter. We provide light for people; lighting up empty parking lots seems to be a bit of a waste, so we’re working on some of the features of LEDs that save energy when there’s nobody around.

The fourth area is energy efficiency retrofits. That means the big, traditional work: change out the chiller, modify this chiller, change the duct work here, change out the lights here—the sort of retrofits that most people go to sleep when they read about. That’s where the best economics are.

VerdeX: Elaborate on Huntington Beach’s relationship with its utility, Southern California Edison.

Klemm: We’re in an energy leader partnership with Southern California Edison. There was some controversy when that model rolled out with other local governments, but personally, and for Huntington, the energy leader partnership is very useful. In that program, the more energy you saved in the past, the higher your incentive rate goes so you can do the projects that were previously  slightly un-economic. But because you’ve already done all the easy work to reach energy efficiency, Edison will provide you enhanced incentives. That partnership sets benchmarks: if you save five percent over what your community and your local government facilities used in 2004, you obtain a silver partner level. If you get up to 10 percent saving over 2004, you hit the gold mark, and then 20 percent savings and you hit the platinum mark, which provides increased flexibility and increased funding for future energy projects. That’s a great partnership, and it’s essential that the utility is on board with energy efficiency projects to be sure that you’re taking advantage of the different funding sources out there.

VerdeX: What technologies did you select, both for the LEDs and the smart grid software? And how did you select the vendors?

Klemm: We ran an RFP on the solar feasibility, design, entitlements, environmental review, and bid support. We had about 20 bidders show up, and there was a review committee that evaluated the criteria. The top three or four proposals were all very close in budget, and the committee had a hard choice to make. They came up with Digital Energy, who did all the site investigation, worked with the planning department, completed the environmental review, and is now supporting it through the bid process. Beyond that, the RFP that we wrote for the solar power purchase agreement is an open bid. We’re looking for experience running plants of longer than five years or so. To have power purchase experience like that requires a decently sized bidder universe. On solar, we were not specific as far as brands; we were much more concerned with the performance specification of successful plans, warranty, and performance criteria. That was fairly simple for solar. We’re doing most of the GIS streetlight audit in-house.

LED streetlights illuminate a parking lot in
Huntington Beach.
LED area lights are in a wild west phase right now. We ran an RFP with a fairly specific set of performance specs. Chip Israel at Lighting Design Alliance helped us come up with a set of performance specs for the Main Street retrofit, which is that controllable, acorn globe-style fixture to accommodate different stakeholders’ needs at different times of the night. In the RFP for the parking lots and parks areas, we left it open whether we would want controlled or stand-alone occupancy-sensors that dim the light when nobody is around. The bidders were able to go either way. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your view, the bi-level with an occupancy sensor has very few off-the-shelf-ready fixtures. BetaLED is the only one that has a built in bi-level feature that’s directly off of their spec sheet. Everyone else would have to customize their fixture. In the parks, we used the BetaLEDs, and in the Blufftop parking lot, we used the KIM archetypes because that was the least cost to retrofit, where basically we kept the fixture housing and replaced the LED emitter deck with a controller. We had to replace the fixtures in their entirety for downtown.

VerdeX: Many small cities that don’t have enterprise energy information management systems technology need such systems. Some, like Huntington Beach, have collaborated with Village Global Green to ramp up and outreach to businesses in the community.  What will accelerate such efforts in cities? 

Klemm: The break point for cities that can afford full time energy managers seems to be right around 200,000 people. The only exception that I’m aware of is in Santa Monica, but they’re kind of a special case. If you look at all the smaller cities in Orange County, none of them have a full time energy manager. The PUC and the CEC wrote their long-term energy efficiency strategic plan, and one of their goals for local governments was that energy management expertise becomes widespread and typical in local governments by 2020. That’s a nice, aggressive goal, but you can’t ignore certain budget realities, and it always comes down to budgets and finance.
The enterprise energy information management systems (EEIMS) provide credible third party documentation of energy savings from the projects funded by EECBG grants or other capital projects funds, establishing avoided costs that can help put forth a good faith effort to secure budget for either an energy manager or energy management services from a sister agency. Our partnership with Edison includes Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa, and Westminster. Edison had a grant proposal, essentially an RFP, that the PUC directed them to spend some money supporting these long-term energy efficiency strategic plan items. EEIMS software is one of those prerequisites to be able to track and analyze utility bills.

Edison awarded us a grant to run an RFP and install enterprise energy information management systems across these four cities that one, provides analysis and recommendations on utility bills; two, helps you compete for budget; and three, makes sure that the taxpayers get good value for their utility expenditures. We’re going to be doing that, hopefully hiring a few GoldenWest college energy auditing interns to go through the painstaking task of looking through 4,000 bills a year to get that system up and running to do the utility bill analysis, ensure energy savings, and ensure sustainable ongoing funding.

VerdeX: Elaborate on the MBCx program for monitoring-based commissioning.

Klemm: I came from the CSU Chancellor’s office prior to joining Huntington Beach. That was a big program for retro-commission (i.e., top-to-bottom building tune-up), where you touch every single device that consumes or regulates the consumption of energy to be sure it’s operating well as a system. Commissioning is not new, the Navy has been doing it for probably 200 years. But it is relatively new in the built environment. One of the criticisms of regular commissioning is that you can do a tune up and then see a slippage of energy savings over time. By adding the monitoring-based aspect to commissioning it becomes the business-as-usual practice to prevent slippage after major retro-commissioning efforts. The ongoing monitoring helps staff diagnose what’s going on with the building and treats the underlying cause rather than just papering over the symptom with more energy use.

VerdeX: You’re going to speak at the VERDEXCHANGE Conference in January, but let me ask the central question here, where do you learn? What other cities and experiences are you drawing from for you to imagine and pursue these goals and objectives as successfully as you are doing?

Klemm: VERDEXCHANGE is a great resource on local government green activities.  I’m two-thirds done with an MBA at Cal State Long Beach, but that’s more for general business skills rather than specific to energy management or sustainability. The Local Government Sustainable Energy Coalition is a statewide organization with a bunch of local governments that get together to discuss energy management and dealing with the utilities. Additionally, the local government commission runs a quarterly energy manager meet-up to share best practices, cry in our beers, establish camaraderie, and keep skills current. I read voraciously on the Internet; the Rocky Mountain Institute is always great for new ideas and to see what others are doing. 

VerdeX: What motivated the city of Huntington Beach to have an energy project manager, to pursue such aggressive projects to encourage distributed energy and generation, and to look for hidden sources of municipal energy drain? What’s the politics that allow this city to be on the cutting edge?

Klemm: The council took a vote to create a new position for the city of Huntington Beach as an energy project manager. I believe the mayor at the time was Debbie Cook. The council voted to create my position, and then HR and the executive staff looked at how we budget for utility costs. The budgets in the utility costs are non-departmental. The bill comes in and finance AP pays it. They didn’t do any cost allocation to departments, so they decided to house this position in the city administrator’s office, which is the only non-departmental department, if you will. By housing the position in the city administrator’s office you have a lot of visibility in a project manager sense—the ability to reach across organizational boundaries and follow the energy savings where they lead you.

Beyond the politics, I’m very focused with my projects on financial benefits, particularly in these budget times. There hasn’t been a whole lot of adverse discussion about my projects; they’ve all been unanimously supported as far as capturing utility incentives, saving energy, eliminating energy waste in the city’s facilities, and then with the EECBGs, the ability to tune up our infrastructure to eliminate energy waste as well as provide better services. I don’t think any politician would not want that, right? •••