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St. Petersburg ranks in Top 50 U.S. cities on Clean Energy Scorecard, progress in sustainability

Megan Holmes

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Earlier this year, St. Petersburg became the first city in Florida to commit to achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. That’s an audacious goal, especially for a city where curbside recycling wasn’t fully implemented until 2015.

But St. Petersburg is making strides, a fact exemplified by its no. 39 ranking on the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) City Clean Energy Scorecard and its no. 37 ranking on the list of 50 U.S. Cities Ranked by Progress of Urban Sustainability by commercial real estate blog, Commercial Cafe.

 
The ACEEE City Clean Energy Scorecard ranked 75 major U.S. Cities based on their efforts to save energy in five specific areas: local government operations, community-wide initiatives, buildings policies, energy and water utilities and transportation policies. St. Petersburg ranked 39 on the ACEEE City Clean Energy list, ahead of no. 59, Tampa; no. 55, Miami, and no. 66, Jacksonville; but behind no. 15 ranked Orlando.
 
Here’s how the five categories broke down for St. Petersburg, according to ACEEE:
 
Local government operations (3.5/9; median score: 3.5)
 
While ACEEE applaud’s St. Petersburg’s willingness to create renewable energy standards and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, it does not project that St. Petersburg will meet its goal of reducing local greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 2016 to 2020. As part of the Integrated Sustainability Action Plan, St. Petersburg requires city-owned buildings to meet LEED requirements and requires that some older buildings retrofit to meet LEED standards. According to the scorecard, unlike other cities, St. Petersburg has not yet established an energy-savings goal for local government operations.
 
Community-wide initiatives (8.5/16; median score: 4.5)
 
St. Pete received the highest ranks for its community-wide initiatives, thanks to the Integrated Sustainability Action Plan, which outlined community-wide climate and renewable energy goals.  The scorecard applauds the city’s efforts to create municipal combined heat and power (CHP) and on-site solar energy, as well as its goals to mitigate urban heat through maintaining current wetland and natural resources/parkland acreage.
 
Building policies (6/30; median score: 9)
 
St. Petersburg’s hands are partially tied when it comes to building codes. According to the scorecard, all Florida requires all jurisdictions to comply with the Sixth Edition Florida Building Code for residential and commercial buildings. So, while St. Petersburg cannot adopt its own building energy codes, it is possible for the city to advocate stricter energy codes. The city can promote clean energy through incentive programs like permit fee refunds for certified green building construction projects. Other recommendations: “The city could further encourage efficiency upgrades in existing buildings by implementing a benchmarking and transparency ordinance, passing energy action requirements, and building an equitable clean energy workforce through training programs and inclusive procurement policies.”
 
Energy and water utilities (2.5/15; median score: 5.5)
Power utilities in St. Petersburg are split between Duke Energy Florida and TECO Peoples Gas. The scorecard recognizes the city’s Clean Energy Roadmap for encouraging Duke to increase renewable energy sources to power St. Pete’s homes and for taking steps to encourage decarbonization. According to the report, St. Petersburg could also work to improve the energy efficiency of its water utility services.
 
Transportation policies (8/30; median score: 8.5)
 
“Relative to other city systems, St. Petersburg’s transit system is both underfunded and could improve in accessibility,” the report said. “Likewise, the city can work to increase low-income household access to high quality transit, incentivize efficient transportation options for low-income residents, and encourage or require the creation of affordable housing units in transit-rich areas.” While the St. Petersburg Comprehensive Plan seeks to reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions by increasing walking, biking and transit trips, the report identifies that it does not adopt hard numeric goals for reducing vehicle miles traveled or emissions.
 
St. Petersburg’s no. 37 ranking in the 50 U.S. Cities Ranked by Progress of Urban Sustainability was based on data from six factors, including the ACEEE rating score, as well as reductions in CO2 emissions, improvements in median air quality, growth in environmentally focused occupations, LEED-certified building progress and green commuter scores. The ranking put St. Petersburg just two spots behind no. 35 Miami and ten spots ahead of no. 47 Jacksonville. The three cities are the only representatives of Florida on the list.
 
St. Petersburg received a total score of 41.35 with rankings of: 17.96/20 on CO2 emission reductions; 9.66/20 in median air quality improvements; 1.52/10 in environmentally focused jobs; 0.00/10 in LEED-certified buildings; 2.63/10 in green commuters.
 
See the full report and rankings here.

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