Tag: Water

Price of Water 2015: Up 6 Percent in 30 Major U.S. Cities; 41 Percent Rise Since 2010

Source: Price of Water 2015: Up 6 Percent in 30 Major U.S. Cities; 41 Percent Rise Since 2010 | Circle of Blue WaterNews

Graphic © Kaye LaFond / Circle of Blue

Water, sewer, and stormwater prices for 30 major U.S. cities in 2015.
By Brett Walton
Circle of Blue

In the decade following World War Two, America’s cities, resurgent from an economic depression and powerful in the wake of a global military triumph, installed and expanded the far-reaching water supply networks that propelled a generation of widespread economic growth, prosperity, and improvement in public health.

Facilities to cleanse the nation’s waterways of harmful pollutants and organic wastes followed in the 1970s thanks to generous federal grants and civic outrage at burning rivers.

The results of those investments — the thousands of miles of distribution pipes beneath city streets, the lengthy water transport and treatment infrastructure — are now cracked or brittle. The bill to repair and renew America’s long-neglected water systems is coming due.

“We expect water rates to continue to grow above inflation for some time. We don’t see an end in sight.” –Andrew Ward, director of U.S. public finance Fitch Ratings

Rebuilding will not be cheap but it is achievable.

Continuing a trend that reflects the disrepair and shows no sign of slowing, the price of residential water service in 30 major U.S. cities rose faster than the cost of nearly every other household staple last year, according to Circle of Blue’s annual water pricing survey.

The economics of water — particularly the cost of treatment, pumping, and new infrastructure, as well as the retail price for consumers — gained renewed prominence as California and Texas, America’s two most populous states, face historic droughts and water managers seek to rein in water consumption, with price increases as one tool in their arsenal.

The average monthly cost of water for a family of four using 100 gallons per person per day climbed 6 percent, according to data collected from the utilities. It is the smallest year-to-year change in the six-year history of the Circle of Blue survey but comparable to past years. The median increase this year was 4.5 percent. In comparison, the Consumer Price Index rose just 1.8 percent in the 12 months ending in March, not including the volatile food and energy sectors. Including food and energy, prices fell by 0.1 percent.

For families using 150 gallons and 50 gallons per person per day, average water prices rose 6 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively.

The survey results reflect broad trends in the municipal water industry that nearly every U.S. utility must grapple with, according to Andrew Ward, a director of U.S. public finance for Fitch Ratings, a credit agency.

Distribution pipes, which can branch for thousands of miles beneath a single city, have aged beyond their shelf life and crack open daily. Some assessments peg the national cost of repairing and replacing old pipes at more than $US 1 trillion over the next two decades. In addition, new treatment technologies are needed to meet Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act requirements, and cities must continue to pay down existing debts. At the same time, conservation measures have proven successful. Utilities are selling less water, but they still need big chunks of revenue to cover the substantial cost of building and maintaining a water system. All together, these and other factors amount to a persistent upward pressure on water rates.

“We expect water rates to continue to grow above inflation for some time,” Ward told Circle of Blue. “We don’t see an end in sight.”

Sewer Prices Higher Than Water

For the first time, Circle of Blue’s survey includes sewer prices and fees for controlling urban runoff from rainstorms. Together, the three charges — water, sewer, and stormwater — provide a complete picture of the rising cost of water for families in the country’s largest cities.

water rates 2015 water prices United States residential water

Graphic © Kaye LaFond / Circle of Blue
Residential water prices for 30 major U.S. cities for three consumption levels from 2010 to 2015. Click for a high-resolution file.

Atlanta ($US 325.52) and Seattle ($US 309.72) have the largest combined monthly charges for water, sewer, and stormwater for a four-person family at the 100 gallon per person per day level. Both cities have high sewer rates, which pay for multibillion-dollar investments in new treatment facilities. Both cities are also operating under legal agreements with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce polluted sewer flows.

These agreements, called consent decrees, typically require massive investments in wastewater treatment capacity and affect more than 40 U.S. cities. Consent decrees and other EPA clean water mandates are the foremost drivers of sewer rate increases, according to Brent Fewell, a partner at the law firm Troutman Sanders and a former EPA assistant administrator for water. Federal grants that helped build the generation of sewage treatment plants in the decade following the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 have been cut by Congress and are not coming back, Fewell added in an interview with Circle of Blue. Cities now finance those projects on their own.

Memphis ($US 55.24) and Salt Lake City ($US 59.16) have the lowest combined monthly charges in the survey.

Conservation Success

Though rates are steadily increasing, residents are lowering bills by using less water.

Indeed, many households are conserving. Austin, Texas, for example, sold nearly 10 billion gallons less water in 2014 than in 2011, a 20 percent reduction. The city achieved this by dramatically increasing its rates for the highest-volume users while enforcing lawn-watering restrictions that were prompted by a record drought, according to David Anders, assistant director of finance for Austin Water.

New Recipe for Revenue

Just as in the declining revenue available to build and repair highways — the result of rising costs, more fuel efficient vehicles, and less driving — financing water systems is a challenge because of the mismatch between the costs to operate a water utility and the utility’s revenue source. Roughly 80 percent of a utility’s costs — such as debt payments — are fixed, meaning they must be paid regardless of how much water is consumed. But residents pay for water primarily based on the volume used, which typically accounts for 80 to 90 percent of revenue.

The new reality for utilities is how to bring those numbers into closer alignment. And they must do so without making small amounts of water for basic needs unaffordable. Revenue stability, conservation, and affordability for the poorest residents: this is the juggling act at hand.

Ward of Fitch Ratings says he sees experimentation taking place as utilities are forced to confront the water-wise practices of the modern urbanite. But because utilities are inherently conservative institutions, those experiments are in increments, he says, not great leaps. Prices are primarily based on the cost to treat and deliver water. Though drought is reducing water availability across the West, few utilities include the scarcity of water in the price that residents pay.

The most daring of the 30 utilities in Circle of Blue’s survey, and an example of where the entire industry is headed, is Austin Water. After a revenue shock in 2010, Austin Water had to be bold. That year, the utility lost $US 53 million in revenue compared to its budget forecast, Anders said. A rainy summer meant that Austinites did not water their lawns as often and the utility did not sell enough of its product — water — to make budget.

An advisory committee set up in the wake of the shortfall recommended that Austin Water find financial footing by earning more dollars through fixed fees, which are paid regardless of the volume of water consumed. In response, the utility raised its fixed fee and added a second fixed fee that is based on consumption. The change was rapid. In 2011, fixed fees accounted for 11 percent of revenue. Today the share is 20 percent, and by 2017, fixed charges will rise to 25 percent of Austin Water’s income.

“More of our revenue is stable now during both drought and wet conditions,” Anders said.

Many utilities in California face a similar reckoning today as state regulators prepare mandatory water restrictions, Ward asserted. Larger utilities have cash reserves to endure a year of declining sales, but not all are in such financial health, he said.

The upheaval caused by changing patterns of water use are an opportunity for utilities to reevaluate long-term plans, argues Jan Beecher, director of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University. Are new supply projects necessary? Do managers need to worry about budgeting for expanded drinking water treatment capacity? Should rate structures be rebuilt?

“The whole idea of conservation and efficiency is to avoid variable costs in the short term and fixed costs in the long term,” Beecher explained.

Circle of Blue gathered water rate information from the website of each city’s water utility or from phone calls or emails to the utilities. Prices are based on single-family residential rates and are current as of April 1, 2015. Rates include fixed fees, volumetric fees, and surcharges. Average monthly prices for cities with seasonal rates were calculated using seasonal weighting. The fixed fees cited in the article are for 5/8 inch meters, the most common size for residential connections. Sewer prices are based on the same three tiers of water use as the water prices.

Managing a Precious Natural Resource: Water

By Gary Peterson, Founder of Peterson Madsen Group, Inc

We’ve all been hearing about recent advances in clean technologies (solar and wind power, biomass, hydropower, biofuels, etc.). It’s becoming more affordable every year and is recognized in mainstream media and engineering circles as reliable alternatives to traditional energy systems. Logically, the majority of us embrace these renewable technologies as we would any standard energy conservation improvement.

Many of our colleagues are sounding the alarm regarding a natural resource that has been overlooked, and that is water. Organizations are consistently looking for ways to reduce operating costs while improving efficiencies. They’re keenly aware of their facilities electric/gas costs and consumption, evident by the implementation of energy reduction strategies, but it appears that water preservation flies under the radar. The cost of water seems to be relatively inexpensive when compared to electric and gas prices. Couple that with the false sense of a plentiful supply and this natural resource becomes a low priority on the “to-do list.” I am not necessarily referring to proactive water-intensive industrial facilities or drought stricken regions. But there is financial profitability, environmental stewardship and socially responsible benefits when an organization includes water management in their overall conservation program.

Here are some alarming statistics from the WaterAid Organization: 

  •  2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation, one in three of the world’s population. (WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Report 2014 update)
  • Achieving universal access to safe water and sanitation would save 2.5 million lives every year. (WHO, Global Burden of Disease 2004 Update, Geneva: WHO, 2008)
  • For every $1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of at least $4 is returned in increased productivity. (Hutton, Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage, WHO, Geneva, 2012: page 4)
  • Hygiene promotion is the most cost effective health intervention according to the World Bank. (Saving lives, WaterAid, 2012)

A brief look at four main categories when considering a water conservation program for facilities:

Process water and utility water improvement: This includes measures for water purification to improve processes, extend boiler and cooling tower cycles resulting in lower utility water usage, and enhance thermal transfer resulting in lower energy use and longer equipment life.

Recovery of energy and valuable stock resources through water reuse: This includes process and utility water discharge streams that contain recoverable thermal energy – either through direct reuse or through heat exchange. It also involves measures to improve discharge water quality to a point that it is recoverable. This applies to the recovery of value streams that are stock loss through discharge, e.g. biomass, process material such as fiber, or nutrient constituents.

Waste water treatment for compliance with discharge regulations: This includes measures for reducing constituents from entering waste water streams, treatment methods to achieve discharge limits, measures to reach zero discharge and methods to recover biomass from discharge as a value stream.

Discharge water recovery: This includes measures to restore discharge water quality by recovering and recycling water during a process. It can involve segregated process and utility discharge streams, CIP and sanitization streams, i.e. all general industrial waste water discharge streams.

Examples of some water conservation measures:

  • Low flow plumbing fixtures
  • Greywater reuse
  • Insulate piping
  • Leak repairs
  • Steam boiler blowdown
  • Cooling tower recovery
  • Reduce water pressure
  • Rainwater harvesting

At a minimum, organizations should expect these components when conducting an “initial water assessment:”

  1. Analytical assessment of the facilities water usage data and compare it to industry best practices
  2. Strategy proposal for site water metering, with an IT-based management solution (if applicable)
  3. List of proposals for water conservation measures that includes definition of scope, pilot and project management and criteria for implementation success
  4. Budgetary estimate of the savings, environmental impact and implementation cost for each proposed measure, (budgetary cost/benefit analysis)

When commercial and industrial buildings institute a site-specific water conservation program, associated energy costs will decline. These benefits are also achievable in other sectors such as multi-family housing, healthcare facilities, data centers and campus environments.

An organizations future ought to incorporate water preservation. Perhaps energy conservation programs should be called “energy and water” conservation programs.

NYC Announces Energy and Water Conservation Program for Multifamily Buildings

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                          
Wednesday, May 13, 2015

CONTACT: Eric Bederman (HPD): 212-863-5176


New Program Will Assist Owners of Small- to Mid-Sized Buildings with Energy and Water Conservation Upgrades In Exchange for Entering Into an Affordable Housing Agreement

Participating Owners Could See an Average Reduction in Utility Costs of 10% or More Annually

New York, NY – Building on Mayor de Blasio’s comprehensive plan for a sustainable and resilient city, “One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City,” New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Vicki Been and New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) President Gary Rodney announced the new Green Housing Preservation Program to assist owners of small- to mid-sized multifamily properties across the city in undertaking energy efficiency and water conservation improvements as well as moderate rehabilitation to improve building conditions, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and preserve affordability. Based on a typical scope of work, it’s anticipated that owners may see more than a 10% annual reduction in utility costs. The new program and related green preservation initiatives are funded with $45 million in city capital provided by the Mayor in HPD’s fiscal year 2016 budget. Additionally, the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC) created a fund that will be available to participating owners who need assistance in financing the predevelopment requirements necessary for participation in the program.

The new program also advances the goals of the Mayor’s Housing New York: A Five-Borough, 10-Year Housing Plan, to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing,and One City: Built to Last, the City’s ten year plan led by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to reduce GHG emissions from buildings by 30% below 2005 levels by 2025 in order to be on the pathway to an 80 percent reduction in citywide GHG emissions by 2050.

“Rising utility costs have played a significant role in the crisis of affordability threatening our city,” said HPD Commissioner Vicki Been. “Many small building owners can’t afford the energy efficient upgrades that would provide long-term savings to help reduce the cost of utilities, which often are passed on to tenants. Our new Green Housing Preservation Program helps to remove these barriers, offering owners the financial resources and technical expertise needed to make their properties more sustainable and energy efficient. I thank HDC, NYCEEC, and all of our partners for their valuable support and ongoing efforts to create a more affordable and sustainable city.”

“The Green Housing Preservation Program delivers on one of the key commitments of the Mayor’sHousing New York plan,” said HDC President Gary Rodney. “The city recognizes that the rising cost of utilities is a threat to the long-term viability of affordable housing. Undertaking retrofits to save energy and water can help owners control operating costs, maintain affordability, and achieve broader sustainability and health goals.  We are grateful to HPD, NYCEEC, and our non-profit partners for their leadership in helping us to create not just a more sustainable city, but also a more equitable one.”

“The New York City Council is committed to building a city resilient in the face of climate change and advocating bold policies that tackle this global issue head-on,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City Council Speaker – District 8 (D). “New York City is a leader in worldwide efforts to combat climate change, and every New Yorker can play a part in ensuring a greener, sustainable future. The Green Housing Preservation Program connects property owners with the tools and resources they need to make buildings energy-efficient and environmentally-conscious—all while preserving the affordable housing our city so desperately needs.”

“Green development has been a hallmark of my administration since day one. From requiring developers who seek capital funding from my office to build in environmentally-friendly ways, to the creation of our Bronx Green Development Fund–which will leverage public and private funds to retrofit older housing stock–we have always placed a heavy focus on cleaner, green development. This new program will not only help make our city cleaner, it will help keep rents affordable as well. A cleaner environment makes for a healthier, happier city, and I thank Mayor de Blasio, HPD and HDC for continuing to show their commitment to a greener New York through this new program,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

The Green Housing Preservation Program was designed to address the triple threat of rising building costs, a growing affordable housing crisis, and the looming risks of climate change. Many owners of small- to mid-sized buildings are being squeezed by steadily rising energy and water costs and would benefit from weatherization and other efficiencies that would aid in reducing those expenses. Unfortunately, these owners may find it difficult to secure the financing necessary to perform the needed improvements.

Utility costs account for roughly 25% of the average operating budget of a rent-stabilized building – costs that have exacerbated the affordability crisis for both tenants and owners.  As rents and utility costs have outstripped wages, the demand for affordable housing has grown dramatically, along with the number of New Yorkers suffering from rent burdens: 56% of households are rent burdened and paying more than a third of their income in rent and utilities. In addition, three in ten households are severely rent burdened, paying half or more of their income to rent and utilities.  At the same time, almost 75% of NYC’s greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings and 35% of emissions come from residential buildings.  New York City is still recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This alone is powerful evidence of the risks posed by climate change and how high the stakes are for New Yorkers and for the world.

The Green Housing Preservation Program aims to achieve the following goals:

  • Ensure the physical and financial viability of properties by controlling operating expenses;
  • Preserve affordability by providing low- and no- cost financing in exchange for a commitment to affordability; and
  • Reduce emissions by encouraging buildings to undertake improvements.

Buildings across the five boroughs that have at least 5 units and fewer than 50,000 square feet (approximately 50 units) are eligible for the program. The Green Housing Preservation Program provides 0% interest, evaporating loans for energy efficiency and water conservation improvements and 1% repayable loans to help cover the costs of moderate rehabilitation improvements that go beyond the energy efficiency measures.  The new program is projected to assist 475 units in the first year, and approximately 3,780 units will undergo moderate rehabilitation.

Examples of energy efficiency improvements include insulation, efficient light fixtures, weatherproofing windows, and the installation of efficiency controls on systems such as boilers and low-flow water fixtures.  Based on a typical scope of work, buildings may reduce utility costs by approximately 10% or more annually. This represents an average savings of approximately $1,500 for a 10-unit building and $3,000 for a 20-unit building.

In exchange for city financial assistance, properties will be required to enter a regulatory agreement to keep rents affordable.  Additionally, the improvements will result in lower overall utility costs, which will further safeguard affordability and promote the sustainability of the City’s housing stock.

HPD will provide direct financing, and encourage owners to leverage private financing and other incentive programs where feasible. This could include utility incentive and public programs for energy efficiency, and private funding through the Program’s participating lenders – the Community Preservation Corporation (CPC), Enterprise Community Partners, the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF), the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), and the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC).

“We are pleased to support the City’s sustainability and housing goals and partner with HPD on this exciting new initiative,” said Susan Leeds, CEO of NYCEEC.  “Our predevelopment loan fund advances NYCEEC’s mission of providing financing solutions for projects that save money, conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gases.   With a NYCEEC predevelopment loan, all eligible building owners can now overcome upfront cost barriers, and realize the benefits of the Green Housing Preservation Program.”

“The Green Preservation Program will make energy efficient upgrades within reach of small landlords by providing low- to no-interest financing and technical expertise to assess their needs. In return, the City will help improve housing quality for the long term, keep rents stable and more affordable, and make progress on its goal to reduce carbon emissions,” said Rafael E. Cestero, President and CEO, The Community Preservation Corporation. “With two thirds of New York’s 2.1 million rental apartments in buildings with 50 units or less, small multifamily buildings are an important source of housing. We commend Mayor de Blasio, HPD Commissioner Been, and HDC President Rodney on preserving these buildings to ensure they continue to be an affordable resource for generations of New Yorkers to come.”

“Given the escalating price of energy and water, the Green Housing Preservation Program provides a model of collaboration among government, building science experts and affordable housing providers. This is an important step forward in connecting financial and environmental sustainability in affordable housing,” said Sam Marks, Executive Director of LISC New York City.

“This public-private partnership will not only provide innovative financial tools to help transform affordable housing developments into energy-efficient and water-efficient homes, but is also a bold solution that will serve as a catalyst for health, economic, and environmental benefits to low-income New Yorkers,” said Judi Kende, Vice President and New York Market Leader, Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. “Investing in green housing is an investment in the future of New York City by helping to reduce high asthma rates, generate energy savings, create new jobs, and position New York as a leader in the fight against climate change. We commend the City, HPD, and HDC for their continued dedication to green housing solutions.”

“The Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) applauds Mayor de Blasio, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the New York City Housing Development Corporation on launching the Green Housing Preservation Program,” said Kirsten Shaw, LIIF’s Director, Eastern Region. “The program enables LIIF to use its capital to address both housing affordability and sustainability in New York – issues that are core to our mission of creating healthy families and communities.

In conjunction with the launch of the Green Housing Preservation Program, HDC and HPD released a rolling Green Physical Needs Assessment (GPNA) Request for Qualifications (RFQ). The RFQ aims to identify a roster of qualified firms that will perform a comprehensive assessment of buildings’ capital improvement and energy needs. The initial ten firms for the pre-qualified listwere released in early May.

This assessment tool will help simplify the process for building owners and consolidate the number of steps they need to undertake to secure public or private financing.  Qualified firms will provide building owners in the program with technical assistance in addition to the comprehensive assessment. This will include scope of work development, help navigating the bid process, taking the project through construction, training managers and on-site staff in order to maintain improvements, and issuing a follow up report. This support can help owners achieve maximum energy efficiency savings.

In addition to supporting individual building owners assisted through the Green Housing Preservation Program, the GPNA guidelines and qualified firms will be used across all HPD and HDC preservation finance programs. It is projected that this will provide comprehensive assessments for up to 12,000 units a year. The agencies will also institute a benchmarking process to measure the success of the improvements in reducing energy consumption.

Thanks to the support from NYCEEC, the costs associated with necessary predevelopment work will not be a burden to building owners who are interested in participating in the Green Housing Preservation Program. The NYCEEC fund will provide favorable financing terms to help with predevelopment requirements that may include the GPNA, property appraisals and surveys, lead and asbestos testing, engineering studies and other activities as required by HPD or private construction and permanent lenders.

The new green program builds on existing HPD and HDC tools and initiatives that are already in place. Starting in 2011, all new construction and substantial rehabilitation projects that received funding from HPD have been required to comply with Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, the only comprehensive green building framework designed for affordable housing. This uniform green building policy provides proven, cost-effective standards for creating healthy and energy-efficient homes, and helps to ensure that the City’s investment in affordable housing goes towards buildings that achieve deeper affordability through lowered utility bills and healthier living environments.  HDC’s Program for Energy Retrofit Loans (PERL) is a partnership between HDC and NYCEEC to finance energy efficiency improvements for eligible projects. NYCEEC’s other programs also provide financing for these types of improvements.

For more information, visit http://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/developers/private-site-preservation.page

The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD)
HPD is the nation’s largest municipal housing preservation and development agency. Its mission is to promote quality housing and viable neighborhoods for New Yorkers through education, outreach, loan and development programs, and enforcement of housing quality standards. HPD is tasked with fulfilling Mayor de Blasio’s Housing New York: A Five-Borough Ten-Year Plan to build and preserve 200,000 affordable units for New Yorkers at the very lowest incomes to those in the middle class. For more information visit www.nyc.gov/hpd and for regular updates on HPD news and services, connect with us via www.facebook.com/nychpd and www.twitter.com/nychousing

The New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC)
HDC is the nation’s largest municipal housing finance agency and is charged with helping to finance the creation or preservation of affordable housing under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York plan. Since 2003, HDC has financed more than 120,000 housing units using over $13.7 billion in bonds, and provided in excess of $1.6 billion in subsidy from corporate reserves. HDC has been the #1 issuer in the nation of mortgage revenue bonds for affordable multi-family housing in each of the last three years on Thomson Reuters’ annual list of multi-family bond issuers. HDC again achieved this distinction despite issuing bonds for only one city, compared to the statewide jurisdictions of the other ranked agencies.  For additional information, visit: www.nychdc.com.

New Water Heating Efficiency Standards Deliver Great Savings, But There’s More to Be Done

via New Water Heating Efficiency Standards Deliver Great Savings, But There’s More to Be Done | Robin Roy’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC.

For those of us working toward smarter, cleaner, cheaper water heating for households, there’s a lot happening in Washington, D.C. With about 15 percent of U.S. household energy use going to heat the water we use to wash dishes and take showers, even small improvements make a big difference.

First, new energy efficiency standards for water heaters issued by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) take effect Thursday (April 16). These standards were finalized in April 2010, giving the water heater industry time to plan and make necessary investments to manufacture the more efficient versions as of April 16. DOE estimates that these new standards will net consumers savings of up to $8.4 billion over the next 30 years. Total energy savings through 2045 are an estimated 2.6 quads, about as much energy as used by 15 million households annually. NRDC is a longstanding and strong supporter of federal energy efficiency standards, and had pushed for these standards to be adopted. It’s good to see them go into effect.

A key aspect of the new standards is that large electric water heaters (over 55 gallons) will use heat pump technology, which can cut energy use by more than 50 percent. That’s a huge improvement – these heaters will use less than half the energy of electric resistance water heaters. Boding well for the future of efficient, economic water heating, manufacturers have also introduced heat pump water heaters in the highly popular 50-gallon size. This is great news, and holds enormous promise for energy and consumer savings beyond what DOE estimated.

Second, with strong bipartisan support, the U.S. Senate recently passed S. 535 Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015 introduced by Senators Portman (OH) and Shaheen (NH), including a provision to exempt “grid-enabled water heaters” from the federal energy efficiency standards for large water heaters. These are large electric resistance water heaters with communication and control capability that allow them to be used as low-cost thermal batteries in an energy storage or demand response program (demand response involves consumers temporarily changing their normal consumption in response to pricing or incentives at times of high wholesale electricity costs or reliability concerns). This can make the electricity system more flexible and ready to use renewable generation with variable output, like wind and solar. Smart grid-responsive water heaters present a promising possibility for a more efficient, more economic, and ultimately lower-emissions electricity system, even if they are less efficient individually. There’s much more to be learned about the possible role of smart water heaters and the trade-offs between system and component efficiency, and the legislation we support would foster much better understanding.

I had the pleasure of testifying in favor of water heater legislation a few weeks ago before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Power. The House of Representatives passed legislation similar to S. 535 in 2014 with overwhelming bipartisan support. Hopefully, the House will once again pass legislation in the current Congress, and grid-enabled water heaters will have a clear path forward to the president’s desk. So the good news is we’re making progress, although there’s no date set yet for House action.

NRDC has only rarely supported exemptions from standards, but here we explored the opportunities that grid-enabled water heaters may offer for environmental and consumer benefit, found the case persuasive, and worked intensively with manufacturers, utilities, and other efficiency and environmental organizations to develop legislation that would deliver on the opportunity while not undermining the benefits of the new water heater efficiency standards. Importantly, the legislation is carefully designed to make sure that these water heaters are actually used in a demand response or energy storage program, and not a loophole to avoid the efficiency standards. Typically, legislation isn’t required to carve out a sensible exemption; DOE has the authority to adopt a waiver on its own. Here, however, DOE recently inexplicably decided to withdraw its own 2013 proposal for a waiver process for grid-enabled water heaters – an idea that manufacturers, utilities, and NRDC had all supported – making legislation necessary.

Looking ahead, we’ll continue to support the legislation on grid-enabled water heaters until it is enacted, and continue to promote smart, economic water heating of all types, including heat pump water heaters of all sizes.

And of course we’ll continue our longstanding work on great energy standards that deliver environmental and consumer benefits on a wide range of appliances.

Water Leak Forces Guests Out of Manhattan Hotel

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – More than 600 Lower Manhattan hotel guests were flooded out of their rooms early Monday morning.

As CBS2’s Diane Macedo reported, it’s the tallest Holiday Inn in the world, but on this frigid day the massive tower on Washington Street proved no match for a 1-inch pipe as water started flowing from the roof around 4:15 a.m.

Water Leak Forces Evacuations At Lower Manhattan Hotel

water leak Water Leak Forces Evacuations At Lower Manhattan Hotel
Juliet Papa reports

In some areas, water could be seen dripping from the ceiling and pooling up on the floor and even made it all the way down to the lobby of the hotel.

“The whole lobby was flooded and there was three elevators and it was like raining,” one hotel guest visiting from Texas told 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa.

Tammi Robert, who is visiting from Rhode Island, was just one of hundreds of guests who were evacuated when the fire alarm went off early Monday morning.

“Water was pouring out of the elevators and out of the ceiling,” said Robert. “We did hear a call out to disregard the alarm, that there wasn’t a fire. But when you’re on the 23rd flood, you don’t disregard the alarm.”

While there was no fire, General Manager Greg Riley said there was a problem.

“We had a fire sprinkler pipe on the roof that burst,” he explained.

Other guests reported confusion with what they were expected to do.

“So we walked all the way down from the 45th to the 12th. They said there was no fire so we went back up. The fireman came all the way up to the 45th again and said that we should evacuate,” said guest Tony Woods, of Detroit. “It was ridiculous and I have asthma.”

Still, Riley said the hotel and others are doing everything they can to help.

“We’ve got rooms in neighboring hotels that we’re putting some people up,” he said. “FDNY was here right away. Emergency management, they helped us a lot. The restaurant next door opened up to get us some warmth and coffee.”

But some guests have nowhere to go but the lobby of the hotel, which though inside, still isn’t providing much warmth, Macedo reported.

“Everything is a mess. So they’re transferring us to another hotel,” said Mete Gulmen, visiting from Turkey. “so we’re waiting here for a cab to take us.”

The FDNY said one person was hospitalized for minor injuries after slipping and falling during the evacuation.

Meanwhile, hotel staff is working to relocate remaining guests to any habitable rooms left inside the Holiday Inn as contractors get started on repairs. The hotel had no estimate on when repairs might be finished.