‘Hefty savings’: Philadelphia plans energy efficiency upgrades for city buildings

City Hall, the criminal justice center, and several homeless shelters could get HVAC upgrades, LED lighting, or solar panels.

Philadelphia City Hall.

Philadelphia City Hall. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

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In the next few years, some of Philadelphia’s most iconic city buildings will be renovated — to boost their energy efficiency.

City Hall, the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice, several health centers, and homeless shelters are part of a request for proposals the city plans to fill in the coming months.

“There’s going to be some hefty savings in these buildings,” said Dominic McGraw, deputy director of energy services & operations of the city’s Municipal Energy Office.

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The project could include upgrades to HVAC systems, lighting, and building automation systems, McGraw said. The city would also like to explore solar panels and more sustainable resilience measures — such as onsite battery storage in place of traditional generators. But the scope of the renovations will ultimately be determined by the contractor that’s chosen this spring.

Four of the buildings — the criminal justice center, City Hall, the Municipal Services Building, and the One Parkway Building — together make up around 12% of the city’s general fund energy usage, according to data published by the city.

They were part of a similar energy efficiency renovation project in 2015, which included LED lighting, low-flow plumbing fixtures, weatherization, and insulation of a steam heating system.  The project cost over $12 million, but resulted in energy cost savings of over $1.4 million each year. The project also reduced the buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions by 7,800 metric tons annually — the equivalent of the emissions from around 1,700 gas-powered cars.

The buildings now have ENERGY STAR energy performance ratings ranging from 38 to 69 — on a scale of 1 to 100, with a nationwide median of 50.  

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Seven health centers in North, Northwest, Northeast, and West Philly, plus three city-owned shelters — Our Brothers’ Place, Stenton Family Manor, and the Woodstock Family Center — are also part of the current energy efficiency RFP.

The least efficient of these buildings, Philadelphia District Five Health Center in North Philly, currently has an ENERGY STAR score of just 14 out of 100.

“We’re really hoping to see those scores increase through this project,” McGraw said. “There’ll be a lot of savings.”

The project will be funded using Pennsylvania’s Guaranteed Energy Savings Act program, which allows municipalities and school districts to finance energy efficiency projects using the utility cost savings that result from the project, without an upfront allocation.

“It doesn’t cost the city anything other than issuing the bond, which is really enticing,” McGraw said.

The city plans to choose up to two contractors for the project in early April. The renovations should be complete within the next five years, McGraw said.

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