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For City & County Energy Management, One Size Doesn’t Fit All


When it comes to energy management, city and county governments are like families. For one thing, there can be a lot of differences–and a one-size energy management solution will definitely not fit all!

Some are large. San Bernardino County is the largest county in the United States by area, encompassing 20,105 square miles. It’s larger than each of the nine smallest states; larger, in fact, than the four smallest states combined!

And some are small. Kalawao County in Hawaii is less than 12 square miles. The town of Lost Springs, WY, has a total area of 0.09 square miles, and a population of four, which makes the Brady Bunch look like a metropolis.

Big Brother

Counties are usually “big brothers” to numerous smaller municipal siblings, with governmental power that trumps the cities and towns they include. But sometimes, city governments grow to encompass multiple county governments. New York City is a great example. Its five boroughs are comprised of multiple counties with very limited governmental power in comparison to the city’s mayoral/council government.

Sometimes as they grow and change, city and county governments consolidate like blended families. The list of such consolidated governments is long (about 40), and includes Indianapolis, Nashville, Jacksonville, Louisville, and Philadelphia.

And sometimes the family lines die out. Cities or counties unincorporate, and are lost to history. Or they may lose their power and vitality and become little more than lines on a territory map. The state of Connecticut and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have counties, but little or no governmental functions.

Connecticut county government was abolished by law in 1960, and all legal power is now vested in state and local governments. Massachusetts abolished eight of its 14 county governments, leaving only five with county-level government and one (Nantucket) with combined county/city government. Vestigial judicial and law enforcement districts may still follow the old county boundaries like old fence rows, paying tribute to a fading family history stretching back in time for generations.

Size and Scope

City or county population does not necessarily correlate with the scope of the government. Wayne County (MI) is the 18th most populous county in the United States with nearly 2 million inhabitants. But its county government operates a modest campus of 18 buildings. This can be explained by legal and constitutional factors. The county was Michigan’s first “charter county,” with clearly defined and limited functions for its governance. Most local government functions remain the responsibility of individual cities and townships.

In the midst of all this governmental diversity, a significant energy management challenge is to identify the needs, resources, and solutions that will bring success. In one county, the portfolio of managed buildings may be confined to little more than the courthouse, and that structure may even be rented. By contrast, Miami-Dade County has a property portfolio of more than 1500 places and a $100 million annual electricity spend. The consolidated City of Philadelphia government has to worry about bills for upwards of 2,000 meters.

Find the Solution that Fits

Some cities or counties may only receive a handful of utility bills each month. And even those may come from government-owned or managed public utilities. Energy management for these types of organizations may be as simple as updating a couple of lines in an Excel spreadsheet, or changing out the light bulbs in the jail. Others may receive hundreds or thousands of utility bills from dozens or hundreds of vendors. Simply maintaining an accurate inventory of government facilities may be a part-time job.

One thing is certain. As municipal or county government responsibility grows, so do the opportunities for stewardship of the resources entrusted to it. The energy manager’s obligation is to be sensitive to these changes and proactive in addressing them with the tools appropriate for the job.