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From Ad Hoc Incentives to A Comprehensive Community Energy Plan

For those of you that follow our blog who are familiar with land use planning in Virginia, I'm sure you already know that localities are required by the Code of Virginia to create and adopt a Comprehensive Plan.  Typically, a Comprehensive Plan contains a land use plan component, a transportation plan component, various engineering plans, and open space plans, among other things.  Makes sense right?  It is common sense that localities should plan the build-out of their communities in a logical manner, taking into considerations planned densities and uses, necessary transportation systems, and the infrastructure to support everything.

Up until now in Virginia, however, promoting efficiency in energy use and encouraging other sustainable design elements have been accomplished pursuant to ad hoc incentive programs for new construction, and almost universally applicable as part of the public negotiation process for special exception approvals, such as committing to certain USGBC LEED certification levels, etc.  This has resulted in a spattering of improvements to individual buildings and site designs throughout localities in Virginia.  Anybody with a background in engineering knows, however, that a city or county is not just a bunch of separate, distinct buildings, but rather is a large, connected system made up of all of the various components that make localities tick, such as water, sanitary sewer, storm water, communications, electrical and gas systems, etc., etc.  While commercial buildings are a major user of these systems and resources, localities up until now have focused on the users of the systems, rather than focusing on a comprehensive analysis and plan for the entire system.

Well, Arlington County may now be doing just that, and at the direction of Chairman Jay Fisette, has created the Community Energy and Sustainability Task Force to guide the development of a "Community Energy Plan" for Arlington County.  The purpose of the Community Energy Plan is to take a holistic look at the County's energy use from a systemic perspective, and to establish a plan to achieve specific goals for the County, rather than just focusing on improving the County's energy efficiency on a building by building basis (although individual building and site design incentives will remain). 

I could be wrong, but I believe Arlington County is the first locality in Virginia to do this.  It is unclear at this early stage whether the end result Community Energy Plan will become a component of the County's Comprehensive Plan or a separate, stand-alone policy, however, as we've seen before, Arlington might be the setting the next trend in Virginia, provided that localities actually have the authority to do this.  I cannot imagine this will not have an impact on the public negotiation process for new development - building and site design, components, etc. may very well be part of broader public systemic goals in the future.  To what extent at this point, though, is hard to say.  It is also certainly likely to have a broader impact on Virginia's public service corporations.