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Energy registry aims to standardize utility data for cities, counties

As more communities create policies related to energy use and emissions, cities and counties are asking for more — and more specific — data from utilities about their energy footprints.

What’s available varies from place to place, though, which is why a multi-state team of data wonks is working to build a standardized tool to help local governments track their energy progress.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is collaborating with teams in Minnesota, Maryland, and the District of Columbia to create voluntary registries where utilities could upload energy data that’s broken down by zip code, community, or other parameters.

In Minnesota, the year-long project is being led by the Great Plains Institute, which is seeking input from the state’s nearly 200 gas and electric utilities on how to best capture data. (A webinar is scheduled for Jan. 26.)

The goal is to come up with a tool that will help policymakers see “how energy is used in their communities and help them in putting together climate initiatives,” said Lola Schoenrich, vice president of the Great Plains Institute, a Minneapolis research and policy nonprofit.

Under the pilot program, utilities would voluntarily share data that are comparable from community to community and over time, Schoenrich said. How detailed that data is will depend in part on the penetration of advanced meters in different states and utility territories.

The registry should be able to tell communities which sectors (residential, commercial or industrial) use the most energy so they can then design initiatives that will have the most impact. Those programs might include commercial energy efficiency, LED lighting, Property Assessed Clean Energy financing, public building efficiency and other programs.

Similar energy data-gathering efforts have been underway for years in Minnesota, Schoenrich noted, and that distinction led to the state being included in the project, which is being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Perhaps the largest example in Minnesota is the Regional Indicators Initiative, operated by the architectural firm LHB, Inc. The program collects data on the environmental performance of more than two dozen cities (and will soon add dozens more) in the following categories: energy, water, travel, waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

LHB Integrative Design Team Leader Rick Carter sees the registry as a method to further automate the kind of energy data reporting used in the Regional Indicators Initiative.

Xcel Energy, the state’s largest investor-owned utility, issues community energy reports for dozens of cities within its territories, he said. The reports detail carbon emissions by customer categories and participation for solar, wind, energy efficiency and demand response programs.

The registry would give other investor-owned, municipal and cooperative utilities a common format for capturing the kind of energy data Xcel has been providing. “It would be amazing,” Carter said. “It will be a challenge to get everyone to do it. I’m optimistic, but we just started the program.”

The University of Minnesota also adds to the state’s energy data cache. It awarded an internal grant to its sustainable building research institute to develop a standardized statewide utility repository. That registry will build directly off research completed by the university last year.

“We are lucky enough that we are not starting from scratch,” Schoenrich said.

One issue with energy registries is data privacy. The Great Plains Institute plans to make sure customer data remains private, she said, while aggregate information will be public.

While she’s sympathetic to utilities that might struggle to format energy data for a registry, Schoenrich sees it as an important tool for reducing greenhouse gases and planning for renewable energy.

“We know communities are incorporating energy and climate goals into their comprehensive plans and to do that they need data,” she said.

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