For Rockville’s Erica Shingara, being green is a team sport
At DEP, we truly believe that our partners are key to making Montgomery County as green as it can be. This “Partners in Energy” series profiles a local leader, advocate, or trailblazer who is dedicated to improving energy efficiency and helping the county realize its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050. Find out more about them in their own words.
Our first installment highlights Erica Shingara, sustainability coordinator for the City of Rockville’s Department of Public Works.
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My Green Montgomery: When did the City of Rockville first become interested in energy and climate change?
Erica Shingara: When the City of Rockville started to think about our energy use and climate change, it was fueled by our residents and businesses. An engaged community is so important. At the local level, we play an important role in how energy is used — be it through building energy standards, renewable energy programs, urban planning, transportation opportunities, or all of the above.
MGM: What do you find most interesting about energy issues in Montgomery County?
Shingara: Montgomery County’s energy landscape is incredibly innovative. We have a variety of policies and programs that haven’t been seen before at the local level, like the county’s Green Bank, and Maryland’s community solar pilot that is coming soon. It seems that there’s something new every day!
MGM: Can you describe what you do in your role as the City of Rockville’s sustainability coordinator?
Shingara: I think the best thing I do as sustainability coordinator is the combination of being able to look at techniques and funding sources to improve our internal operations and also work with the community. I get a little of both.
Internally, I look at the various ways the city consumes energy. We have a drinking water treatment plant, more than 1,000 acres of parks, a dozen facilities, 6,573 street lights, 250 fleet vehicles, you name it. We budgeted $3.34 million for energy utility costs this year, so there are cost-cutting motivations as well as exciting project opportunities for energy efficiency.
At the community level, we have our own green building ordinance, and we have programs like our solar co-op, plus education and outreach to people. We get the word out on what people can do with social media, our Rockville Reports newsletter, green tips, and information on the city website.
MGM: How does your day-to-day work impact Rockville and its residents?
Shingara: In terms of businesses and residents, we have a good split. Rockville is helping both sides make better energy decisions to reduce their costs, increase efficiency, and choose cleaner energy sources. We also provide a green building property tax credit program for commercial buildings that achieve LEED and ENERGY STAR certifications.
We’re seeing the results of these efforts. Rockville reduced community greenhouse gas emissions by more than 10% and per-capita emissions by 16% between 2005 and 2012. We were able to do this despite population growth, in large part because of reductions in building-based fuel use across all sectors.
Additionally, managing energy also helps manage our costs, which benefits our taxpayers. One of the measures we use to assess our overall municipal energy consumption for our main facilities is weather-normalized site energy use intensity (EUI), which includes the total electricity, natural gas, and heating oil consumed by the building. Last year, we saw approximately a 2% reduction from our baseline year of fiscal 2010. In addition, our energy costs are the lowest they’ve been in eight years.
These reductions may not seem like a lot, but it is a challenge to grow and manage energy use at the same time. We have a new police station that runs 24/7. We’ve increased the size of our maintenance facility and senior center, and adjusted the operations of our facilities to better meet the growing needs of our community. So we’re growing, but energy-wise we’re staying the same, so that’s a good thing.
MGM: What has been your proudest moment in your position?
Shingara: We recently completed our second Rockville Solar Co-op which has been really been expanding access to solar. Forty-three Rockville residents have installed solar through the first co-op, and we’ve seen a significant increase overall with solar. We have issued 400 solar permits just in the last six years.
We are also proud of our green building program for commercial and residential properties, and that will only become more important in years to come. We are seeing the construction of greener homes and even passive and net-zero homes in Rockville, as well as more LEED- and ENERGY STAR-certified buildings.
MGM: What projects are you working on now that we should be watching?
Shingara: We’ll be doing more for our municipal operations by installing our first solar canopy over existing parking next year at the Gude Drive City Maintenance Facility. We’re also looking at our own municipal fleet and making efforts to reduce fuel consumption.
Looking to the future, we are also coordinating with Montgomery County to expand DEP’s programs in the City of Rockville, such as building energy benchmarking, and commercial PACE so commercial property owners can take advantage. We’re also interested in working with residents, especially those with fixed incomes, to see how we can help them reduce their energy consumption and save money.
MGM: What’s your favorite way to save energy in your home or workplace?
Shingara: At home, I have a 6.62 kW solar panel system installed on my roof, which can generate up to approximately 680 kWh a month. Having my home mostly powered by the sun is my favorite way to reduce demand off of the electricity grid and green my home.
MGM: Outside of your role, what other activities or interests do you have?
Shingara: I really care about volunteerism in the City of Rockville, especially working together with residents and businesses to improve our community from the ground up. I especially enjoy organizing and participating in sustainability events.
Along with the USGBC-NCR Montgomery County Branch, I helped organize an Energy Exploration event at the Lincoln Park Community Center on October 19, 2016 where volunteers taught children (and their parents) how to save energy, water, and money at home using arcade-style energy games.
I also serve as staff liaison to the Rockville Environment Commission—a volunteer-based Commission that recommends policies and programs to the Mayor and Council and City staff relating to the environment and sustainability. This group is very active at the local level, engaging non-profits, neighborhoods, and businesses in Rockville on a variety of issues. If you’re interested in getting involved, send an email or attend an upcoming meeting.
When we work together as a team, our volunteers can get a lot accomplished, whether its educating residents about energy efficiency, participating in a local clean-up event to beautify a park, or serving on a volunteer board or commission in Rockville.
By Scott Harris. Scott is a freelance writer who lives in Montgomery County and covers the environment and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.