Editor's Viewpoint: Having enough energy to continue


If recycling is the parent of the current green movement, then sustainability is its child. Born at the turn of the century, sustainability added green thinking to product and process development.

Recycling was embraced by cities, counties and states beginning in the 1980s, and later government officials tapped into the sustainability concept by updating energy systems in buildings, buying hybrid vehicles and moving from high energy interior and exterior lighting to far more efficient LED technology. At that point, sustainability became the happy intersection of economic value and environmental responsibility.

Now, the definition of sustainability has grown to include the ability of cities and counties to sustain their operations following significant power failures. However, most emergency response plans do not include actions that specifically address energy disruptions, a point made by the authors of, "Keeping the lights on," which is about energy assurance planning. In one example, they noted that without a back-up generator at a fuel-pumping station to fill up fire trucks or police cars, fuel cannot be dispensed because the pump requires electricity.

The good news is that the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recognized this gap a few years ago and created the Local Government Energy Assurance Planning (LEAP) program. DOE then joined with the Public Technology Institute (PTI) to provide technical assistance to cities in the program. That program — which helped dozens of large, medium and small communities prepare energy assurance plans — is ending, but PTI continues to work with others, including the California Energy Commission.

"Most communities included response and restoration in their emergency plans, but few included preparedness and investment," says Ronda Mosley, PTI's LEAP program director. That often-missing part of the plan includes determining a community's energy strengths and weaknesses, a feat that involves working with many groups and utility providers. (See "PTI offers 'smart grid' tutorial for local governments.")

I bring all of this to your attention because Ronda and her small team's work is important — it addresses a critical element lacking in most sustainability and emergency response plans, a mistake that could become magnified after a tornado, flood, snow storm or even an oil shortage.

Not fully recognizing the importance of energy following an emergency reminds me of early response plans that did not include the work that had to be done by solid waste departments. That type of omission became evident after 9/11 when solid waste crews moved tons of rubble to landfills so rescuers could better search for victims.

Ronda says to contact her at to investigate energy assurance planning. Her office can help identify other funding sources, as well as show you low- or no-expense tactics to start using now.

Creating an energy assurance plan may not be as easy as flipping a switch, but you also don't want to find out how hard delivering critical public services will be without one.

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Derek Prall

Derek Prall is a professional journalist who has held numerous positions with a variety of print and online publications including The Public Manager magazine and the New Jersey Herald. He is a 2008...

Jason Axelrod

Jason Axelrod is an award-winning journalist who has reported for The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Business Journal and Mother Nature Network, among other outlets. Jason...
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