Energy Software Transforms Local Government

ARTICLE | Feb 28, 2014

In 2008, as utility costs soared, the City of Virginia Beach realized that confronting energy costs – along with a greater effort to conserve – were vital to the City’s well-being. As a result, the City established the Joint Energy Committee to help identify key energy issues and goals for the City. Committee members were tasked with defining a vision and developing a plan of action for all City departments.

In FY 2010, CVB had spent almost $20 million in utility payments for electric, natural gas, fuel, and propane. In fact, outside of debt payments, retirement, and payroll costs, electricity was CVB’s top expense at over $15.5 million. By 2012, overall utility costs had soared to over $24 million annually for CVB’s approximately 3.3 million square feet of building space. The increases came in spite of energy-saving capital projects.

For years, the City operated under a decentralized bill review model with built-in redundancies that limited the City’s measurement and control of energy costs. Cumbersome paper-based payment processes, coupled with utility vendor delays in remittance processing, led to duplicate charges, late payments, and fees. Departmental staff assigned to pay the bills, did not have the tools to audit them.

While City staff knew the dollar amount we were paying each of our energy vendors - we did not have a comprehensive city-wide view of all of the energy being consumed.

Intent of the Project/Program/Service

Meeting monthly, the Joint Energy Committee members set the following long-term goals for achieving the first part of their mandate - energy savings:

  • Begin to track energy usage city-wide
  • Identify energy saving projects
  • Reduce building electric consumption by 10%
  • Reduce energy costs

To achieve the second part of their mandate would require restructuring the utility billing process. They organized a project team that included the Energy Management Administrator and members of the Finance, Public Works, and Information Technology departments.

Innovative Characteristics

Empowering Stakeholders

Chaired by a Dave Hansen, Deputy City Manager, the Joint Energy Committee has a unique partnership comprised of representatives from City departments, the City public schools, and even the primary utility vendor—Dominion Virginia Power. As the City’s utility cost crisis escalated, the committee was able to adjust and make changes that helped keep costs down – among other things.

Going through the Steps                                                                                  

The project team analyzed the current system and developed a specific energy accounting and management system that would track the energy data and use it to guide budgeting and conservation efforts.

The project design included:  

1) Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) which allows the utility provider to send monthly utility bills electronically to the energy software;

2) An accounts payable system to transfer approved payments from the energy software to the City’s accounts payable system; and,

3) An Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager system which allows the software to automatically benchmark our buildings nationally.

This process is providing the City with detailed energy data to include on peak and off peak usage, rate schedules, and details on extra charges for fuel, taxes and other charges.

Funding

Total implementation costs were approximately 0.7% of CVB’s annual energy expense. A Department of Energy grant covered the cost of the EnergyCAP software.

Energy Reporting

The City’s intranet site, Beachnet, provides our staff with a wealth of internal information, including that of energy usage. The Energy Office, working with Information Technology, created a new website to help accomplish the City’s energy reduction goals.

Each month, the Energy Office uploads over 80 energy reports so that City staff may see each department’s usage which includes electric, natural gas, fuel, water, and sewer. The reports provide a comprehensive view of the city’s energy costs and consumption, which helps us identify specific areas where we can eliminate waste and conserve energy. Through the use of this software, the City has improved energy reporting and tracking that helps reduce energy costs, improve energy efficiency of our City buildings, and increase reporting on greenhouse gases resulting from government operations

Energy Training

The City launched a new energy training program for City personnel to help educate employees on ways they can assist the City in energy conservation. It is offered each month, and after the training is completed, staff members are designated “Energy Champions” for the City. Over 100 employees have participated in the program to date.

Outcomes

The City of Virginia Beach completed the project in 2013, and as a result, Virginia Beach is the first municipality in Virginia to implement a single entry electronic vendor invoice-to-payment process. This project has provided:

  • Improvements in internal control processes
  • Large reductions in time and data entry keying errors
  • Electronic audits on every bill to catch utility billing errors
  • Staff time to focus on bill exceptions or abnormalities
  • Reductions in paper record keeping
  • Reductions in late or incorrect payments
  • Increased energy reporting

City departments are already showing an increased awareness of energy usage, thanks to the software’s ability to generate charts, graphs, and reports with granular and/or summary data.

Longstanding departmental billing issues have been resolved, inactive accounts and unused meters are being terminated, and energy data is being used to research the highest priority need for City building energy retrofits propelling the energy conservation program forward at a steady pace. The City of Virginia is projecting a minimum savings of $50,000 annually as a result of this very successful project.

Applicable Results and Real-World Practicality

The City of Virginia Beach has achieved much higher efficiency in our financial process because of electronic invoicing. The City’s energy management administration has developed greater accountability of energy use through powerful, accurate energy reporting. The transition to electronic invoicing is helping the City to refocus resources away from the time-consuming task of payment processing to researching and resolving important issues such as skipped bills, missing bills, and reduction of incorrect charges and past due penalties.

The key to the success of the project was the project team. They came together and worked through the strict City financial requirements and reorganized them in a new, highly efficient, electronic process. The efforts of the Joint Energy Committee and the project team, coupled with a successful implementation of EnergyCAP energy management software, have allowed the City of Virginia Beach to make significant strides towards a much more energy-efficient and sustainable government.

Visit the City's website to learn more. 

 

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