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Millenium Plus One
Tucson/Pima County Metropolitan Energy Commission
Annual Report - Final


As metro Tucson enters the 21st Century, an array of unprecedented challenges and opportunities face our community. During the 1990s, the population of Pima County increased an average 2.5 percent annually while the State of Arizona grew 3.5 percent per year. Since 1980, Arizona's population has more than doubled.

The Tucson-Pima County Metropolitan Energy Commission (MEC) presents this Annual Report 2001 to inform the public about our activities and to invite all groups in the community to join us in promoting informed energy choices in the future.

High growth rates have had significant impacts on our local economy, and especially on our expenditures for energy. During the past decade energy consumed about 10 percent of total annual income and spending. Measures researched and promoted by the Metropolitan Energy Commission to reduce energy consumption have had enormous leverage and proven positive multiplier effects, generating ongoing economic benefits including increased personal income, business profits, local tax-base, and job creation. MEC's efforts to improve energy efficiency in new residential and commercial construction in fact delivered an overall reduction in per capita energy consumption of 9 percent between 1992 and 1998.

The Commission

MEC is an appointed, volunteer civic commission jointly established in 1980 by the City of Tucson and Pima County to serve the community on energy matters. During the past twenty-one years, the Commission has analyzed technical issues, conducted strategic planning, commented on energy legislation, issued recommendations to the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, and actively educated the public on a variety of topics.

MEC is an effective agent which generates active community support for energy issues and cosponsors many energy-related community activities.

The Mission

Since 1995 MEC has successfully executed its present mission to serve as catalyst for improving energy efficiency, increasing energy conservation and development of a sustainable community.

Given the reality of rapid regional population growth and the success of the Commission's past efforts, we conclude that continued emphasis on sustainability will maintain and even increase our already substantial economic return on investment (currently $200 million per year) while permitting an intelligent and effective integration of environmental integrity and social needs.

MEC has consistently deployed seed grants and partnership funding to support and promote many sustainable initiatives serving the needs of the community. These efforts focus on reducing energy expenditures both public and private, increasing regional and renewable energy resources, and reducing the environmental and economic impacts of energy choices.

Community Energy Performance

According to community energy assessments published by MEC in February 2000 and September 2001, there's good news and bad news on Tucson's energy front:

The Good News

Metropolitan Tucson is a national leader in confronting energy challenges. Improved energy practices in Tucson and Pima County are contributing to significant energy savings, now approaching $200 million annually. These new practices include the progressive energy building codes adopted by Mayor and Council and the Board of Supervisors, energy savings programs sponsored by local utilities, participation in the Federal Government's Greenlights and Energy Star programs for energy efficient lighting, appliances and building upgrades, stimulated competition among builders for the "energy efficiency/greenbuilding market" proven by the success of our Civano development, and installation of LED traffic lights. Since 1992, the cumulative dollar savings accruing to these local energy improvements has grown to nearly $700 million. Since adoption of the Sustainable Energy Standard requirement for all new municipal buildings, our robust construction industry is producing buildings with even greater energy-efficiency. These successes make Tucson the place where professionals come from all over the world to study "best practices" in energy.

The Bad News

While overall energy use per capita declined 9 percent between 1992 and 1998, all savings from these efforts were consumed as annual transportation energy expenditures rose by $300 million (more than 60 percent) between 1998 and 2000.

The rates of growth in both vehicle miles traveled and transportation fuel costs far exceeded our population growth rate during the 1990s.

Currently, private per capita energy costs of transportation are five times greater than the public system costs.

This means on average, every person in Pima County is spending directly and indirectly five times more for gasoline and diesel fuels than the current per capita capital improvement, operations, and maintenance costs for the public transportation system.

These immense drains on both our public and private financial resources point to the need for new community solutions to transportation needs. The newly-adopted City of Tucson General Plan guidelines for growth do not yet consider all transportation costs including energy. Such consideration will encourage a more multi-modal transportation system with significant investment in expanded public transit possibly including light rail as many other communities are currently doing. Improvements in transportation energy consumption will minimize dependence on imported oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, contribute to more healthy air quality, and generate significant economic benefits. Currently more than $1.4 billion, or 70 percent of the total $2 billion spent on energy locally, leaves the Tucson metro area each year.

The Future

The Metropolitan Energy Commission continues to monitor and accelerate the implementation of proven building techniques in energy-efficiency and renewables even while recognizing emerging energy issues in the transportation sector. The cost of energy will be a significant factor in designing and implementing an effective multi-modal transportation system.

Every ten percent savings in annual energy consumption currently saves the Tucson metropolitan region $200 million for other needs and investments. Recent data suggest inspections for proper installation of insulation during construction will produce even greater economic returns.

City Council and County Board must continue to press administrative staff for vigorous enforcement of building code requirements. These are the Commission's primary challenges and opportunities.

MEC Funding Activities and Leveraged Funds (FY 2000-2001)

During FY 2000-2001, MEC utilized a $20,016 budget from the City and County to leverage $310,300 of additional energy investments in the Tucson Metropolitan Area. Leveraged funds from MEC-funded projects include:

MEC-funded Projects MEC Funding Leveraged
Women for Sustainable Technologies Conference 3,000 4,300
Southern Arizona Green Builders Alliance 2,000 14,000
UA Solar Racing Team 2,500 172,500
Greater Tucson Coalition for Solar Energy (Solar Safari) 2,000 6,000
Land and Water Fund Clean Energy Campaign 2,500 3,000
Civano Energy and Water Baseline Study 4,000 15,000
Hot Topics, Cool Solutions Livable Communities Conference 2,791 87,000
Arizona Association of Environmental Education Conference 1,225 8,500
TOTAL $20,016 $310,300

FY 2000-20001 funding activities:

Women for Sustainable Technologies (WST). MEC continued its support of WST by providing funding for its 2001 annual conference.
Tucson Institute for Sustainable Communities/Green Builders Alliance. The Southern Arizona Green Builder Alliance was launched in 2000-2001 to create a local green builder standards and recognition program and increase the number of builders employing sustainable methods and materials. MEC provided $2,000 in early funding to help obtain $14,000 in matching funds for this much needed project.
University of Arizona Solar Racing Team. Engineering students at UA developed and built an advanced solar racing vehicle with community and corporate sponsorship. MEC was an early contributor of $2,500 to the effort, which eventually raised $172,500 in total funds. The UA team won the national solar race.
Greater Tucson Coalition for Solar Energy (Solar Safari). MEC cosponsored a solar education fair at Reid Park, which attracted thousands of Tucsonans, young and old.
Land and Water Trust Fund of the Rockies (Clean Energy Campaign). Climate change patterns require that we accelerate efforts to implement clean energy sources and technologies, particularly renewable energies. MEC granted $2,500 to support the Land and Water Fund to implement this important campaign.
Civano Energy and Water Baseline Study. Now that the Community of Civano is two years old, systematic evaluation of actual energy and water saving in this model sustainable community can begin. An important element of this evaluation is the establishment of a baseline reference to compare a statistically valid sample of other Tucson homes built during a similar time frame with Civano home consumption patterns.
Tucson Clean & Beautiful (Hot Topics, Cool Solutions Conference). MEC cosponsored the Critical Issues Forum of this important 2001 regional conference on building livable communities. Leaders and professionals from the private, public, and non-profit sectors gathered for three days to discuss timely issues and possible solutions.
Arizona Association of Environmental Education (AAEE). MEC provided financial support of $1,225 and speakers for the 2001 AAEE state-wide conference to provide an energy briefing for attending educators.
MEC Website Project. MEC allocated $2,000 to enhance MEC's online information resource to the community.
Transportation and Growth Committee. As a result of MEC's strategic planning retreat in August 2000 led by Beth Walkup, the Commission initiated a new Transportation and Growth Committee to examine the energy issues of transportation and population growth in the region. The committee commissioned a metro transportation energy assessment which showed a dramatic increase in local energy expenditures for transportation.

MEC Website (

MEC's web site, implemented in 1998, provides local and global access so everyone can share MEC activities and explore Tucson's energy issues and accomplishments. The site includes reports on local energy consumption, world energy supplies, sustainable building codes, transportation energy impacts, innovative homes, the Community Strategic Energy Plan, local information resources, online energy information websites, and examples of sustainable building technologies and methods. MEC's website received over 57,000 visits in its first three months and continues to inform people all over the world about the sustainable approaches developing here in Tucson. Web monitoring shows heavy interest in innovative Tucson buildings and techniques.

In 2001, MEC began improvements to increase the website's functionality and usefulness. These will include: a comprehensive calendar of energy-related events and organizations, online conferencing and work sessions, a search function for user-specified information, instant links to MEC's community partners (including logo), and more graphic materials.

Implementing the Community Strategic Energy Plan

MEC facilitated development of the Community Strategic Energy Plan and its four strategic goals approved by the Mayor and Council and the Board of Supervisors. This is an ongoing, action-focused process which mobilizes and empowers effective energy development and management. MEC continues to implement the plan. Since plan publication and distribution in 1996, MEC has hosted several community focus groups exploring changing community priorities. As stated in the Plan, the four strategic goals are:

  1. Increase community benefits by more efficient energy use;
  2. Improve the energy supply;
  3. Protect against the negative impacts of energy use;
  4. Work together to achieve a desirable energy future.

Community dialogues show important issues include solar industry development, transportation alternatives, mixed-use land development, desert-adapted landscaping and building design, sustainable development, environmental protection and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Implementation strategies most often identified were community cooperation, information and education, greater awareness of innovative buildings, public demonstration projects, public policy and planning, building codes and zoning regulations, financial and regulatory incentives, and awards and recognition. In addition to specific strategies, the groups identified a need for an integrated approach to energy issues in general by all stakeholders in the community. MEC is using this information to guide future activities and make our website a more effective decision-making tool.

During the past year the Commission has continued its organizing role and involved the community by providing to the City of Tucson and Pima County:

  1. A network for energy-related groups, business, and community organizations,
  2. A support resource for citizens and government officials; and
  3. A clearinghouse for energy information, issues and events.

The 2000 Tucson-Pima County Energy Assessment Update shows the Strategic Plan is beginning to deliver positive results. Between 1992 and 1998, per capita energy consumption in the metro area decreased nine percent (9%) due entirely to MEC-recommended improvements in building design and construction mandated by City Council and the board of Supervisors.

However, the 2001 Tucson-Pima Transportation Energy assessment demonstrates special efforts are needed in the transportation sector to manage economic risks associated with dependence on imported oil. Increased participation and emphasis on MEC's mission will ensure Tucson's growing future is a sustainable one and that we continue to implement better technologies with multiple benefits for the entire community.

Energy Awards Program

To foster energy education and awareness in the greater Tucson community the Metropolitan Energy in collaboration with the Education Commission started the Energy Education Awards in 1996. Dr. Helmut Frank received the 2000 Energy Education Award for a lifetime of achievement in energy education, including college teaching, research, and community service.

The annual Southern Arizona Energy Awards in 1997 were jointly developed by the Tucson-Pima County Metropolitan Energy Commission (MEC), the Southern Arizona Chapter, Association of Energy Engineers (AEE); the Tucson Chapter, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). These awards recognize both those commercial and residential buildings which have achieved excellence in design, implementation, and energy utilization, and the individuals responsible for the projects. The Sierra Vista Library, the City of Tucson's Southeast Service Center and the Satori Elementary School received Year 2000 Commercial Awards and Ron Carswell tied with Rick & Theresa Riess/Dave Taggett to receive the 2000 Residential Awards.

The Metropolitan Energy Commission in joint sponsorship with the Tucson Regional Clean Cities Coalition, Pima County Department of Environmental Quality and the Pima Association of Governments also launched several Transportation Energy Awards in 1999. Suzanne Willyerd (MSA, Inc) won the 2001 Blue Skies Award for the most energy saved and pollution reduced during the annual Pima County Clean Air Challenge. Telecommuting saved Ms. Willyerd over 6,000 trip miles, 360 gallons of gasoline, $500, and 240 pounds of pollution during the two week challenge period. Tucson Unified School District and the Town of Oro Valley received our 2001 Clean Cities Awards.

Civano and the Greater Tucson Solar Village Program

The Commission's first initiative was the visionary Tucson Solar Village Project, now the sustainable residential development known as The Community of Civano. The Solar Village effort has led to many community benefits including sustainable building codes, international attention on Tucson as a "solar capital" and sustainable development leader, and establishment of the Greater Tucson Coalition for Solar and the Southern Arizona Green Builder Alliance.

MEC also argued that a sustainable design model could be adapted throughout the city and thereby benefit existing community residents. MEC proposed in 1994 that a Greater Tucson Solar Village Program could assist individuals, businesses and organizations to adopt sustainable energy practices throughout the area.

With support from the Arizona Energy Office's Oil Overcharge Fund, MEC led the eight-year participatory planning and design process. After reviewing other sustainable development projects, such as Village Homes in Davis, California, MEC was able to show significant economic opportunities in sustainable development. The potential of solving multiple problems through this approach convinced city leaders to implement Civano in 1994. While the original concept was to demonstrate beneficial uses of solar energy, the Civano vision grew to also include conservation of energy, water, managed waste and compact mixed-use land development. Civano encourages more pedestrian circulation and stronger community interaction.

The Metropolitan Energy Commission played a primary role in the development and adoption of these design criteria and guidelines. Work by members of the Commission resulted in the "Sustainable Energy Standard" by the Tucson/Pima County Building Code Committee, now part of the City's Memorandum of Understanding for the project. The City of Tucson is currently constructing its facilities to meet the Sustainable Energy Standard. This standard modifies the Model Energy Code (now called the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)) for developers and builders. The Sustainable Energy Standard requires building energy efficiency at least 50 percent greater than the IECC and is available to everyone, even outside Civano. Its wide adoption is strongly promoted by The Commission.

As The Community of Civano grows, The Commission continues to monitor its progress, provide technical assistance, and participate with the Management of Civano in resolution of issues dealing with the Sustainable Energy Standard. With planning for Civano's second neighborhood now underway, the main challenge for the developer is to stay ahead of ever-growing competition from builders outside of Civano. Homebuyers are becoming increasingly aware of the value of energy efficiency.

MEC: A Valuable Resource for the Community

As we enter the new Millennium, MEC, together with its network of volunteers and community partners, continues to successfully leverage its modest $20,000 annual budget to make energy-efficiency, energy conservation and sustainability everyday facts of life in our community.