Conservation & Sustainability in Oro Valley, AZ

Posted on October 4th, 2012 by

There’s a lot of talk out there about “going green,” and as elected officials, there’s an expectation that we will lead the charge toward conservation and sustainability. But there’s a reason so many jurisdictions are not seeing meaningful successes in their green initiatives: they struggle to move beyond the token programs that have very little impact. If we want to truly make a difference, it is incumbent upon us to not only set an example for the community, but to implement policies and commit the necessary resources for effective conservation and sustainability.

To that end, the Town of Oro Valley has adopted a conservation and sustainability strategy that aims to “get our house in order” so that we can serve as a model to the community. Over the past five years, the Town has adopted a number of environmentally-sustainable practices, including: reclaimed water use for Town Hall landscaping, an office recycling program, zoning guidelines to protect open space, a public right-of-way tree replacement program, on-site water audits for residential and commercial properties, water conservation outreach, rainwater harvesting, grey water and solar-ready requirements for all new residential buildings, and shared-use paths to encourage walking and biking.

In 2009, the Town of Oro Valley conducted an Investment Grade Energy Analysis of Town facilities as part of the ARRA (American Recovery Reinvestment Act) Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant program. The audit included identification of energy-saving upgrades to Town facilities and was designed to aid in short- and long-range planning to ensure all future expenditures for energy use provide an appropriate return on investment.

The energy analysis resulted in the development of an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy (EECS), and a prioritized list of items to be implemented. In support of the Town’s commitment to sustainability, staff and consultant APS Energy Services developed a self-funded strategy for facility improvements that would not require any capital outlay by the Town. The proposed strategy included a comprehensive list of energy efficiency improvements and specific hardware retrofits and replacement of ageing machinery, motors and equipment. It was developed into a long-range plan that will save the Town substantial costs in both energy use and a projected $164,000 annual savings over the next 20 years. This is important not only to our organization’s bottom line, but also to our residents who want to see fiscal, responsible management of resources.

In recognition of this energy project, the Town received the 2011 Outstanding Achievement in Innovation Award from the Alliance for Innovation.

In an ongoing effort to improve our model for conservation and sustainability, we are currently developing a General Plan Energy Element to provide long-term direction relative to energy issues in Oro Valley. This Element includes goals, policies and specific implementation items to further energy conservation, use of renewable technologies, energy infrastructure planning and emergency preparedness. It also seeks to raise awareness of energy issues through community outreach and educational opportunities.

The General Plan is updated once every ten years, and sets the long-term direction for the organization, residents and businesses. This document is key to our future success because it is developed as the result of a community stakeholder process. Setting the new goals and objectives will help us become a more sustainable community and allow us to reach beyond our own organization, to share our success with residents, businesses, schools and fire districts within our jurisdiction. The General Plan also guides the development and implementation of Town policy. This is an area for continuous improvement in our organization.

At the local level, we still face challenges with implementing policy and maintaining the gains we have made with our investments in energy efficiency and conservation. The tools at our disposal are the General Plan, as mentioned above, and the Town’s internal policies and procedures.

Partnerships with other local jurisdictions are another political tool that can contribute to the sustainability of our community. Most cities and towns are located in metropolitan areas. Residents don’t identify strongly with a particular city, that is to say, they don’t recognize the invisible lines on the map that show where one jurisdiction ends and another begins. We work closely with our neighbors, including the Town of Marana, the City of Tucson, and Pima County, through our metropolitan planning organization to ensure that our residents contribute to, and benefit from, regional investments in planning and infrastructure.

An important yet often-overlooked component of town-wide sustainability is the local business community. In 2009, Vestar Development Co.’s Oro Valley Marketplace earned Silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the US Green Building Council, marking the first retail project in the state of Arizona to earn the designation, and one of the first in the Southwest. Sanofi, a leading global pharmaceutical company in Oro Valley, has also earned LEED Certification for their two-story, 110,350-square-foot, research facility.

In addition to the LEED certification, Oro Valley Marketplace is the largest environmental restoration project in Oro Valley history, and today, the riparian area is a mecca for hikers, bikers, horses, birds and shoppers.

These businesses are not only setting great examples for other Oro Valley businesses, but they have become part of a community-wide effort which will continue to grow and build momentum.

As a municipality, we are in a unique position. Oro Valley’s residents and businesses look to Town Hall for guidance and direction. The policies we set and the actions we take will create a culture of conservation and sustainability that becomes part of our identity now and well into the future.

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