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California City Solutions: Millbrae Becomes Leader in Environmental Quality and Energy Reduction

March 21, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Millbrae’s Clean Energy Project was submitted in 2013 for the Planning and Environmental Quality award category.
The city of Millbrae has a standing history of environmental stewardship that includes programs on recycling and waste reduction, water and energy conservation and climate protection. With a goal to become a leader in renewable energy and increase economic development by creating local “green” job opportunities, Millbrae’s city council adopted an ambitious plan in 2009 to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 15 percent by 2020. An innovative financing approach allowed the city to move forward in early 2012 with its energy goals by undertaking a $2 million citywide Clean Energy Project.

The city turned to the San Mateo County Energy Watch program to conduct a utility usage study. This program is collaboration between the City and County Association of Governments, PG&E, and the Association of Bay Area Governments. When limited staffing and a tight budget proved to be a challenge for Millbrae, a solution emerged from a conversation between the mayor, the city manager, and clean energy representative from League Platinum Partner, Siemens.
The city council authorized a Letter of Intent with Siemens in 2011 to pursue a Clean Energy Project to reduce energy and water consumption, reduce the city’s overall carbon footprint, explore renewable energy solutions, and do all this without requiring an upfront capital investment. City staff and Siemens performed a technical evaluation of various facility improvement measures that could help achieve these objectives.
Developing the proper street lighting solution was a priority. Because the city contemplated a significant change in the type of lighting it implemented a street lighting pilot project so the public, city council, and staff could evaluate and provide feedback on lighting options. The pilot project included “cobra-head”-style lighting fixtures in local neighborhoods and decorative-style lighting fixtures in the downtown area. It also included different styles of both induction and light emitting diode technology solutions.
The Millbrae City Council carefully reviewed costs before voting to proceed with implementation. The city established annual budget neutrality as a key financial criterion. The project’s utility savings, guaranteed by Siemens, allow the improvements to be paid for over a 20-year term. Once the financing is paid off, all energy savings accrue to the city’s General Fund balance. Any additional savings beyond the guaranteed savings also benefit the city’s General Fund accounting.
Covering the city's major civic facilities, five city parks and city-wide streetlights, the city council ultimately agreed upon five key improvements, including:
  • Library Rooftop Solar Photovoltaics: The installation of a 50kW system comprised of 180 solar panels, produces 64,000 kWh annually, a significant percentage of the electricity consumed by the City Hall campus. It cuts monthly demand charges by producing electricity through the new solar system during peak demand periods.
  • Smart Irrigation: Expansion of the smart irrigation system through the project decreased water consumption at five city parks, and saves staff time and vehicle costs by allowing remote operation of the system from city offices and desktop computers.
  • Interior and Exterior Lighting: Interior and exterior lighting fixtures were upgraded, saving over 148,000 kWh annually.
  • Community Center Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning System (HVAC) Conversion: The 50-year-old HVAC equipment was replaced with a new state-of-the-art HVAC system, saving energy while increasing the public’s comfort and restoring the Community Center as a premier civic facility.
  • City-wide Streetlight Replacements: More than 1,100 dated streetlight fixtures were replaced with new induction lamps, a proven efficient and reliable lighting technology. Lighting levels at key crosswalks were raised to increase visibility. The 10-year warranty equates to lower maintenance costs and staff time. This project facet was a major contributor to the city’s overall energy savings, with approximately 314,000 kWh saved annually.
Overall, the project reduces annual energy consumption by 553,000 kWh. This matches a GHG emissions reduction of 268 metric tons of CO2, which is equivalent to removing 49 cars from the road and consuming approximately 28,000 fewer gallons of gasoline. PG&E rebates on the project total close to $22,000, and the city earns $32,000 in solar production incentives over a five-year period.
The Clean Energy Project utilizes advanced technology. In particular, the smart irrigation system and the HVAC system at the Community Center use state-of-the-art technology allowing for remote operation and a high degree of control for optimal savings. The solar photovoltaic system is also monitored remotely, tracking renewable energy production and addressing any system shortcomings immediately.
The project generated local employment opportunities, creating 29 construction jobs at an average of more than seven weeks’ time each.
After the completion of project implementation, the ribbon cutting event gave city officials an opportunity to reach out to state and local legislators, as well as elected officials from local cities to communicate the project’s success.

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