Article City Forum Jim FergusonJohn Phillips

The Palm Desert Energy Partnership Focuses on a Sustainable Energy Future

Jim Ferguson is a council member for the City of Palm Desert and can be reached at John Phillips is executive director of the Energy Coalition and can be reached at For more information about the Energy Coalition, visit  

It seems everyone’s talking about greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. In California, public officials are taking a hard look at the fact that electricity generation is one of the biggest offenders; it’s one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the state.

By partnering with utilities, cities can play a critical role in reducing their over-all demand for electricity and natural gas. This in turn results in lower utility bills, decreased emissions of harmful pollutants and a reduced need to build new power plants. In a bold, new project facilitated by the Energy Coalition, the City of Palm Desert is working with its utilities, Southern California Edison and the Gas Company, to reduce the city’s overall energy consumption and peak demand by 30 percent (adjusted for growth) over the next five years.

Palm Desert and the utilities have launched a broad spectrum of residential, small business and commercial energy incentive and retrofit programs that support the California Public Utilities Com mission’s (CPUC) State Energy Action Plan. Michael Peevey, president of the CPUC, notes, “The Palm Desert Energy Partnership is a critical link between the state’s Energy Action Plan and community implementation. This much-needed partnership provides a vital and sustainable connection between the state’s energy future and that of the community.”

The partnership project, called Set to Save, includes a variety of rebates and financial incentives on energy-efficient air conditioning units, pool pumps, appliances, solar panel installation and ventilation duct sealing, as well as a comprehensive community-based marketing and energy education campaign to in crease awareness and community participation. Palm Desert has also adopted an energy ordinance requiring that:

  • All new construction exceed existing Title 24 requirements by at least 10 percent; and
  • All new public facilities exceed existing Title 24 requirements by 20 percent and achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building certification. (For more about LEED, see question 8 of “Increasing City Buildings’ Energy Efficiency: Nine Questions City Officials Should Ask” on page 43.)

The project is primarily funded by pub lic goods surcharge funds through the utilities, as directed by the CPUC, and is being facilitated by the Energy Coalition, a nonprofit organization founded in 1981. As a pioneer in energy efficiency and demand response initiatives, The Energy Coalition develops and supports a wide range of programs that seek to ensure a stable and sustainable energy future for the state, including one for the City of Irvine (see “Irvine’s Community Energy Partnership Program Focuses on Changing Behavior” on page 39 for more information).

Beyond reducing Palm Desert’s energy consumption by 30 percent in the next five years, the partnership intends to create a model that, once proven successful, can be replicated by cities and utilities throughout the state. Achieving unpre cedented levels of citizen participation to revolutionize the way Californians think about and use energy, reducing utility bills and drastically curtailing emissions are all part of the project’s long-term vision.

What Your City Can Do Now

What does this mean for your city? Don’t wait! Climate change poses the most seri ous threat to our environmental future. Cities must act now to reduce dependence on foreign oil, lessen the need to build new power plants and limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing electricity ge neration. Working together as partners, municipalities and utilities can help en sure a stable and sustainable energy future for California.

Build partnerships with your area’s utilities to promote energy conservation in your city. Take these steps:

  • Engage with your area utilities. Let them know your city is committed to reducing its overall energy consumption and utility bills, and work with them to do so.
  • Analyze your city’s energy use and create your own energy action plan, modeled after the state’s plan, that sets targets to reduce energy consumption and peak demand.
  • Set an example by reducing energy usage and peak demand in municipal buildings.
  • Facilitate citizen participation in the energy conservation and efficiency programs that your area utilities offer.

The Palm Desert Energy Partnership invites city governments, policy-makers and utilities to provide ideas, insight and support, and to learn from its process. The partnership hopes its model will set a new standard of collaboration to meet the needs of state policy-makers, residents, cities and utilities.

This article appears in the July 2007 issue of Western City
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