New Plymouth District Council

Being aware of energy consumption and CO2 emissions has paid dividends.

Being a good citizen brings benefits

New Plymouth District Council logoJust being aware of its energy consumption and CO2 emissions has paid dividends for New Plymouth District Council. The Council now has a better understanding of this area and its business as a whole. It has streamlined the way it works, reduced costs, and helped keep rates below inflation – all while being a good corporate citizen.

About eight years ago, the Council undertook to professionalise its procurement function. Like all territorial authorities, the Council’s business is diverse and complex and some of its largest costs were for corporate-type services and supplies that many areas used but had no real control over.

Effective means doing the right things and delivering the right outcomes. Efficient means doing the right things well. Delivering the right outcomes in the best way possible, not simply at the lowest cost.

One of the early initiatives was to secure better pricing and service for its energy needs. When financial pressures increased globally about three years later, the Council started looking at more innovative ways of further reducing its costs. Chief Executive, Barbara McKerrow, says the organisation began by carrying out an independent review audit of its major energy-sing activities. “This was a really useful exercise in understanding our business as it was picked apart and also showed us all the links across the business,” says Ms McKerrow. The Council, also mindful of its objective to reduce emissions wherever economic to do so, looked to also reduce its environmental footprint in terms of reduced energy use.

Addressing the issue of getting better energy prices was reasonably straightforward but required good initial knowledge of the Council’s usage patterns, billing processes, and decision-making. General Manager, Steve Taylor, says that having an already well-established culture of “trying to find better ways of doing things and getting more value for the same dollar” meant the Council was able to use its “virtual team” approach involving key staff throughout the organisation to focus on this particular area of cost and use.

However, to better manage energy use itself, they needed an even better understanding of their energy consumption and emissions. With support from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), the Council hired a contractor to conduct much more detailed individual “energy audits” of major energy-using parts of its business. They reviewed everything from the fuel they used in their vehicles, office buildings and plants, to their emissions(such as leaking gas from landfills).

The process revealed, for example, that the transformers at their water treatment plant were over specified, even for peak load demands. This information enabled the Council to pull back from significant up-front investment in a plant that would be immediately capable of dealing with the waste demands of the district in 40 years’ time to one that allows the transformers to be stepped up, as required.

The Council is also sharing the cost of trialling LED street lights with a potential private sector provider. “We want to see if it works in reality and brings about both safety and savings,” says Mr Taylor.

Ms McKerrow acknowledges it is a challenge making decisions that benefit their community now and in the future, but she sees that this is a role, again, that local government must lead on. Being able to identify the “tipping point” between the cost and benefits of environmentally friendly initiatives is, Mr Taylor believes, the reason for the success of the Council’s Energy Management Programme. It is both pragmatic and aspirational, and is based on real data about the Council’s energy use and its emissions. “We have a better understanding of the true cost of some of those green objectives and the impact they will have for our community and the environment,” says Mr Taylor.

Through the energy management “virtual team”, existing and new initiatives were assessed in more detail to determine their economic efficiency and also their environmental benefit. This cross-organisational approach has encouraged staff to also think “outside of their own areas” of their energy use and emissions, embedding energy-conscious thinking into their day-to-day decisions and planning. “It’s about being smarter with our resources,” says Ms McKerrow.

Since the programme started in 2006/07, the Council’s energy consumption has dropped by 3.8% despite increased use of Council facilities such as pools. Savings from the Council’s energy management and other efficiency initiatives are expected to offset other costs for the next 10 years. Hopefully, some can be re-invested into other initiatives that will produce further benefits.

While total rates have increased by 4.8% in 2012/13, after deduction of the cost of new capital projects such as the upgrade of the waste-water treatment plant, the increase is only 1.9%, which is less than the consumer price index and the local government index.  

The Council’s efforts in managing its organisation’s energy needs have been nationally recognised, with an EECA Award in 2012. “We are still on the journey and will continue to turn stones and carry on improving our whole approach in this area and other areas,” says Ms McKerrow.

Ms McKerrow says the Council has been able to achieve these results through “crisp, clear articulation” of its objectives and making sure they have “debates and well informed discussions” with all stakeholders. “It’s about identifying the right outcomes for the community and what it means for staff,” she says. “You must be doing this for the right reasons and have the right people in the right roles.”

Ms McKerrow believes embedding long-term, effective change in an organisation is only possible when there is passion to achieve great results and look beyond the obvious. To inspire and motivate staff to change the way they think and act, the driver has to be a desire to “do good for the community and not just focus on rate decreases. It has to be the right cause.”

Based on an interview with Barbara McKerrow, Chief Executive, and Steve Taylor, General Manager, on 22 June 2012.