10 Small U.S. Cities Leading in Energy Efficiency

man under waterfall in Hawaii

May 5, 2017

Small cities can make a big impact. In fact, many are leading the way in terms of energy efficiency. Energy Star, which certifies high-efficiency appliances and home improvement products, is actually run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition to the residential side, Energy Star also certifies commercial and municipal buildings and ranks cities on their volume of energy-efficient buildings.

Aside from recognizing small buildings for their commitment to cutting carbon emissions, Energy Star ranks smaller cities as well. So, while Washington, D.C. – with 686 certified structures – leads the Energy Star rankings, the list also acknowledges eco-minded cities like Midland, Texas and Greenville, North Carolina. These 10 small cities make energy efficiency a priority and lead their category in the Energy Star rankings.

1. Midland, Texas

34 Energy Star buildings

Midland was the most energy efficient small city in 2016, based on its number of Energy Star-certified buildings. Its efficiency efforts saved it approximately $2.1 million in energy costs over the course of the year. The Midland School District is part of the town’s quest for better efficiency. In addition to auditing each of its schools’ water usage, HVAC systems, and occupancy patterns, the district emphasizes changing its residents’ energy conservation habits.

Also, in its recent Energy Conservation and Demand Management Plan, Midland said that its overall goal is to continuously improve its efforts to reduce both energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Illustrating the transparency of its carbon generation, Midland published its emissions figures in the Energy Conservation Plan, establishing a benchmark for measuring future improvements.

2. Sioux City, Iowa

21 Energy Star buildings

Sioux City received a number of impressive rankings last year. For example, this Iowa town of 82,000 earned nods from the International Economic Development Council for its support of local entrepreneurship and for its commitment to human rights and business development. In addition to its Energy Star buildings, the city founded the Sioux City Environmental Stewardship Award, which recognizes citizens and organizations who strive to make their community an environmentally-friendly place to live and work.

3. Martinsville, Virginia

14 Energy Star buildings

This Virginia town of 14,000, perhaps best known as the home of the Martinsville Speedway (a track used by NASCAR), has long encouraged residents to opt for Energy Star certified appliances and products. Martinsville’s environmental efforts go beyond championing home efficiency. In addition to operating a recycling center, the city is the site of a LEED building project and wildlife habitat certified by the National Wildlife Federation.

4. Shelbyville, Tennessee

13 Energy Star buildings

Located in central Tennessee, Shelbyville is known for its Tennessee Walking Horses and for its history for manufacturing wood pencils. Now, it is one of the greenest small cities in the country, with 13 Energy Star buildings and a population around 20,000. The local electric utility offers programs to help homeowners fund efficiency upgrades such as heat pumps and water heaters. New homes also receive cash incentives if they include features such as high-rated insulation.

5. St. Marys, Georgia

12 Energy Star buildings

This historic city of 17,000 is popular among tourists because it is the gateway to the Cumberland Island National Seashore. Energy Star efforts in St. Marys saved the city $1.6 million in power costs throughout 2016. St. Marys Earthkeepers, meanwhile, is a grassroots organization devoted to preserving the local environment by advocating for a citywide recycling service and pushing for other eco-friendly improvements.

6. Searcy, Arkansas

10 Energy Star buildings

Searcy’s businesses and buildings are embracing the movement towards greater efficiency and environmental friendliness. A local Starbucks franchise received LEED certification in 2016, while the White County Medical Center was given Energy Star certification in early 2017. This was a major efficiency upgrade that could move Searcy towards the top of the small city category for 2017.

7. Greenville, North Carolina

10 Energy Star buildings

Greenville is the center of a small metropolitan area in central North Carolina. The city has received a dozen accolades for its quality of life over the years, from respected organizations and publications like the Milken Institute, Forbes and the Financial Times. Greenville has its own bus system, which is rare for a smaller city. Its seven-person Environmental Advisory Commission has been helping the city council with environmental matters and technical advice for the past 40 years, proving that efficiency and eco-friendliness are not new concepts in Greenville.

8. Hilo, Hawaii

9 Energy Star buildings

Hilo is the largest settlement on the Big Island of Hawaii, a popular destination for ecotourism and visitors attracted to eco-lodges instead of mainstream resorts. Although officially unincorporated, Hilo is the center of government for its county. The Hilo State Office Building is one of the greenest in the area; having achieved Energy Star certification in 2007. The local Sears is also the owner of an Energy Star tag (and unsurprisingly one of the best places to buy Energy Star certified appliances).

9. Punta Gorda, Florida

8 Energy Star buildings

This city of 16,600 in Florida showcases the natural side of the Sunshine State. From scallops and seagrass to manatees and migrating birds, Punta Gorda is a nature haven. Alongside an impressive pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and plenty of ecotourism and voluntourism opportunities, the city has enacted boating regulations to help protect the animal life from pollution and boat propellers.

10. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii

8 Energy Star buildings

These three cities on the island of Maui comprise the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina metro area. Many of the greenest buildings in this area are involved in the tourist industry. The Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort has LEED Silver certification, while the nearby Wailea Beach Marriott Resort has Energy Star status. Local schools have also earned the Energy Star tag, and the Kahului Elementary School and Maui High School have solar panels that provide emission-free power while cutting operational expenses. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina has also taken steps to preserve its historic buildings. A handful of structures in the metro area are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which protects them from demolition and significant changes.

Benefits of Living in Energy-Efficient Cities

What do these city-wide efforts mean for homeowners? First of all, greater energy efficiency can mean fewer emissions and cleaner air on a local level. Also, if municipal authorities are focused on reducing energy consumption, they may have approved programs to allow their residents to join this effort. One example is PACE financing.

PACE, which stands for property assessed clean energy, is a program that helps finance home improvement upgrades that lower energy consumption. Property owners can make an energy-saving improvement (from installing Energy Star appliances to adding solar power to increasing insulation), and reducing their own carbon footprint. Such financing options are widely available; they are not confined to these Energy Star cities, so homeowners in many places can benefit from the nationwide movement to create greener, more energy-efficient homes.

PACE can help you finance hundreds of energy saving and water conservation projects. Find out if PACE is available in your area – contact Ygrene at (855) 901-3999; info@ygrene.com.