Philly moves to slash energy use, starting with $9M retrofit of Art Museum

Philadelphia released its first energy master plan Wednesday for its portfolio of 600 city-owned buildings. The goal: Cut greenhouse-gas emissions in half, slash energy consumption, and buy or generate all electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Included in the plan is a $9 million retrofit of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the biggest power user in the bunch. The museum spends an average of $3 million per year to heat, cool and light the space under four acres of roof.

“I think this is our way of leading by example,” said Christine Knapp, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability, which put the plan together.

Officials, including Mayor Kenney, announced the plan on the steps of the Art Museum, which has leased its main building from the city since 1928.

“If we are to ask residents and the business community to do their part in fighting climate change, the city must lead by example,” Kenney said. “That’s why we are starting with this – a comprehensive blueprint to better manage our own assets to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in line with our commitments.”

Camera icon Frank Kummer
City officials including Christine Knapp, director of the Office of Sustainability (speaking), Council President Darrell L. Clarke (to her left),  and Mayor Kenney  (right) announce the city’s first Municipal Energy Master Plan at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The plan is part of the city’s pledge to meet Paris Climate Accord goals, even though President Trump has vowed to pull the United States out of the agreement.

The city spends $35 million to $45 million per year on energy for buildings and street lighting — the equivalent of 160,000 to 220,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Specifically, the plan’s goals are:

  • Reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from city buildings 50 percent by 2030.
  • Cut energy use in buildings 20 percent by 2030.
  • Generate or buy 100 percent of all electricity from renewable resources by 2030.
  • Maintain or reduce the city’s built environment cost of energy at facilities.

To reduce energy use, officials from the Office of Sustainability plan to tackle the biggest energy hogs, such as street lighting. Currently, street lighting accounts for about 32 percent of all energy use, amounting to $12.9 million per year. The goal is to replace all current high-pressure sodium lights with LED lighting.

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Officials also say they need to change the mind-set of employees. The city has been holding training sessions since 2009 to help employees understand green building methods and manage systems.

The plan also calls for more transparent power bills so managers can better monitor how much their departments use.

Years ago, each department handled its own energy bills, but then the city implemented a unified system for bill paying. The move had the unintended effect of taking monitoring responsibility away from managers.

Under the energy master plan, department heads will now have access to their energy use with goals to reduce it. All capital projects will require energy efficiency in their budgets.

Another major goal is to move toward buying from renewable energy sources. To achieve that, the city and the Philadelphia Energy Authority also announced they are seeking proposals for a renewable energy power purchase agreement from a large-scale wind, solar or other renewable energy project in the region.

The city’s fleet and Philadelphia International Airport are not mentioned in the plan because they have their own separate energy strategies.

Camera icon Frank Kummer
Christine Knapp, director of the Office of Sustainability (center), after announcing the city’s first Municipal Energy Master Plan Wednesday.

Adam Agalloco, the energy manager of the Office of Sustainability, said that officials expect the cost of the overall plan will be negligible.

“We’re trying to make smart investments,” he said. “One of the goals is to maintain our costs and not spend wildly. So it’s all meant to be cost-effective.”

Under the plan, the city would:

  • Install LED lighting with sensors that can shut off lights when no one is in a room.
  • Install internet-enabled controls that allow buildings to be shut down when not in use.
  • Use higher-efficiency heating and air-conditioning systems, such as replacing window units and using infrared heating. Geothermal systems using heat pumps are also a possibility. The Riverside Correctional Facility is already using solar water heaters, for example.
  • Make policy changes in how the city operates, maintains, and makes decisions on its buildings.

The city will also assess its potential to generate its own solar power. But even if officials install solar systems on the rooftops of all its buildings, the city would still have to purchase power.

“The task of curtailing climate change is enormous, and city operations are a relatively small area where work is needed,” the plan states. “Portions of this plan require action beyond city government and are dependent on state and national policy changes that support clean energy and climate action.”

Council President Darrell L. Clarke called the effort an “unprecedented partnership between the Philadelphia Energy Authority, city government, and the Museum of Art.”

Gail Harrity, president of the Art Museum, called the initiative “an excellent example of the enduring 89-year partnership between the city and the museum.”