Is an Energy Manager Right for Your City?

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  • An energy manager supplies leadership on energy issues and acts as a single point of accountability.
  • Energy managers are most effective when they have the necessary resources and support.
  • An ideal energy manager combines thorough technical knowledge with good communication skills.

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For many municipalities, a focus on energy efficiency is essential to remaining in the black. Unfortunately, while city managers may be able to recognize energy-saving opportunities, they often lack the time or skills necessary to turn those opportunities into reality. One solution is to hire an energy manager.

The role of an energy manager

An energy manager serves as an energy champion within an organization, providing leadership and guidance on energy resource issues. The energy manager oversees all aspects of energy use, maximizing efficiency and serving as a single point of accountability for developing energy-saving goals, guiding energy projects and acting as a liaison between departments. Key responsibilities of an energy manager include the following:

  • Monitor energy use and conduct periodic audits to identify opportunities for improving efficiency
  • Determine strategies for purchasing energy and make recommendations regarding energy providers
  • Provide advice on purchasing and installing energy-efficient equipment
  • Implement, oversee and report on the progress of energy-efficiency projects
  • Formulate an energy-management plan for the city
  • Promote energy conservation through education and training

The role of an energy manager may vary depending on the size of the city or town, as well as the importance of energy use in its overall strategic focus.

Should you hire an energy manager?

Because energy is a key factor in operating expenses of government buildings and other facilities, cities can realize substantial benefits from hiring an energy manager. With an energy manager focused on reducing energy costs, more resources can be devoted to other activities that can improve the well-being of citizens. Public facilities, such as schools and community health centers, often have complex and diverse energy structures. An energy manager can provide guidance in ensuring efficiency, safety and reliability.

Despite the benefits energy managers can bring, they require commitment from the administration in order to be effective. Before you begin the hiring process, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does energy play a key role in our community?
  • Are significant energy-saving opportunities available?
  • Are municipal leaders committed to conservation and improved energy management?
  • Are the necessary resources available to compensate an energy manager and support a budget for proposed energy-efficiency projects?

What about smaller cities?

While hiring a full-time energy manager may not always be feasible for smaller cities, good energy management is always beneficial. Smaller cities should consider appointing someone from inside the organization to take the lead on energy issues. This could be a staff member with knowledge or interest in energy-related issues.

It is important, however, to give this individual a level of authority, access to resources, as well as some form of accountability that will allow them to function in this new role. Smaller cities can also hire an outside energy-management consultant, although any agreement should specify the contractor’s role and the expected outcome from the relationship.

With a tight budget, San Bernardino, Calif. could not hire a full-time energy manager and instead gave the responsibility to a staff member from the accounting department. After this person aggregated numbers from past electric bills, San Bernardino received a $375,000 grant to retrofit city lights. City facilities wasting electricity and water were also identified, saving tens of thousands of dollars and generating funds for energy projects. Future grant funding will be used to expand energy-efficiency programs such as solar-powered light-emitting diode (LED) street lighting.

What to look for in an energy manager

Hiring an energy manager sounds like a good idea, but what qualifications should this individual have? Energy managers typically have a degree in mechanical engineering or some related technical field. Some have a business degree combined with a strong background in facilities management or energy-related issues. The Association of Energy Engineers oversees a Certified Energy Manager program, a widely accepted standard for energy management professionals.

Ultimately however, an effective energy manager is someone who can get things done. The ideal candidate combines the appropriate technical background with the people skills to work with multiple departments, while building support for energy-saving projects and practices.