PRACTICES IN PROGRESS – Torri 2020: Victories and obstacles on the road to emissions reductions at the local level

Torri 2020 is the energy efficiency plan of the town of Torri di Quartesolo, a municipality of 12.000 inhabitants located in the Italian province of Vicenza (Italy). The plan participated in the Best Climate Practices Contest of 2013 on “Climate Change and Urban Resilience” and (together with New York’s  Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency) won the award. It was developed by Green Dev, an Italian environmental and energy planning agency, and adopted by the municipality in 2012. The plan Torri 2020 presents a series of concrete actions, which, if adequately implemented, will result in emissions reductions of 26 percent relative to 2005 levels.

Torri 2020 is a Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP), a planning document that each signatory to the Covenant of Mayors must develop delineating how the municipality will attain its emissions reductions goals. The Covenant of Mayors was launched after the adoption of the 2020 EU Climate and Energy Package in 2008 to mobilize local and regional authorities in support of the EU’s goal of achieving a 20 percent emissions reduction relative to 1990 levels by 2020. By signing onto the Covenant, a municipality commits itself to conducting a Baseline Emissions Inventory and implementing a Sustainable Energy Action Plan to achieve an emissions reduction goal by 2020.

The 41 actions proposed by Torri 2020 are grouped by sectors—residential, industrial, tertiary, transportation, agriculture, and public government—and involve both the municipality and Torri’s citizens. In 2014, two years after Torri 2020’s adoption by the municipal government, Green Dev completed a round of monitoring and found that, based on natural gas and electricity consumption data from 2010 and 2012, CO2 emissions from energy consumption had already fallen by 11 percent in 2012, with the decreasing trend continuing to 2014.

We spoke with Emiliano Vettore, co-founder of Green Dev, to synthesize the progress made and the challenges encountered by Torri di Quartesolo as it has sought to implement its SEAP. While Green Dev has not had official contact with the municipality since the monitoring round of 2014, Emiliano was nonetheless able to provide us with a lot of rich information and anecdotes.

1) Since Torri 2020 was adopted in 2012, which have been the actions prescribed by the SEAP that have been most successfully implemented?

The entire communications campaign targeted to Torri’s citizens was successfully implemented. The municipality sent informational materials and energy efficiency brochures describing both the energy saving interventions that require an investment, as well as the simple changes that citizens can make in their energy consumption habits to save money. At the same time, the municipality organized public meetings, as proposed in the SEAP, and launched the WebGIS Energy application, which has been downloaded by more than 800 users within the municipality.

The municipality has also, although only recently, begun to deal with an energy savings company (ESCo) for the retrofitting of the street lighting that was planned within the SEAP. In regards to public buildings, I know that, since the monitoring in 2014, the municipality has carried out some of the retrofits planned in the SEAP. For example, the doors and windows of some buildings have been replaced, and a solar thermal system has been installed over the dressing rooms of the football field.

2) The SEAP also specified actions to be implemented by individuals and private entities, in the residential, industrial, tertiary, transportation, and agricultural sectors.

The SEAP was fashioned so that the communications campaign and other actions by the municipality would stimulate citizens and private businesses to install energy saving devices and renewable energy systems. And indeed, there has been an increase in the number of such interventions at the local level. Of course, this is also due to incentives from the national government, such as tax deductions. Surely, the combination of these two factors—the SEAP and national incentives—has made it so that, within the territory of Torri di Quartesolo, we can see many examples of sustainable energy consumption.

As regards transportation, starting in 2012, the municipality has promoted a funding opportunity to substitute highly polluting vehicles, giving grants to citizens for the acquisition of low-emission vehicles. This was done in 2012, 2013, and 2014. We have yet to ascertain if the initiative was prolonged over these last two years.

Another action that has been accomplished, is the creation of a new street within the city center. Torri di Quartesolo has the largest commercial zone in the province of Vicenza, and one of the largest in the Veneto Region. This generates a lot of traffic at the local level and in the city center. Therefore, to reduce traffic-related pollution, the municipality took the following two measures: First, it restructured the main thoroughfare in the city to discourage car use and thereby cause the traffic headed to the commercial center to by-pass the city center. To do this it narrowed the street and added flower beds and trees, both to discourage car traffic and incentivize alternative transportation. And second, it created a new line of public bus connecting the commercial center to a parking lot located outside the town. Furthermore, the municipality installed electric car charging stations in this commercial area.

3) Can you tell me a little bit more about the WebGIS Energy tool? How does it work, and what impact has it had?

The application, as you have seen, is downloadable from the municipality’s website. It is free and works in conjunction with Google Earth. When an user opens the application, he is sent to an aerial view of Torri di Quartesolo where every house and building is color coded according to its energy consumption. Clicking on a building, the user can learn what energy efficiency interventions and retrofits can be made, as well as the savings that would be obtained through these interventions and the payback time on those investments. It’s really an innovative application, not only for this, but also because all the energy consumption assessments and suggested interventions are strongly linked to their territory, their context. We did not merely use generic data sheets that can as well be applied in the province of Torino, or the province of Milano. They concern that territory, those habitations, and to achieve this we did a series of data processing procedures that allow the software to be closely tied to the realities of the town.

I can say that it has had an impact not only because it has been downloaded by more than 800 users, but also because it generated interest and a series of micro-actions of energy efficiency at the local level. And on this point we have heard particularly from companies that operate in the municipality. For example, there’s a construction company that does energy efficiency interventions, such as thermal insulation, etc. which has told us that the WebGIS tool has been very useful because it presented a first information [to citizens] and encouraged them to make this type of intervention. We have also heard from companies that install PV panels who have told us that, since the tool allows the citizen to estimate the amount of solar needed to support auto-consumption, it provided a first input and citizens have responded.

4) Which are the actions that have encountered the most obstacles? What kind of obstacles, and why?

Surely the most significant obstacles have involved the public sector, that is, the municipal administration. And the obstacles were mainly economic because, generally, Italian municipal administrations have scant means of investment. Nevertheless, thanks mainly to the development of ESCos, this obstacle has been overcome. For example, the SEAP called for the retrofit of street lighting to be done by 2014. But the municipality only started working on it at the end of 2016 because it originally wanted to do this intervention in-house and the unavailability of funds finally persuaded them to externalize the work to an ESCo.

Another big obstacle, and this regards all municipal governments, is the change of administrations and priorities.

5) Some of the actions in the SEAP called for the modification of the zoning and construction code. Were these completed?

The zoning and construction rules were changed in two ways. First, in 2012-2013, they were modified to require new or renovated houses to install a system for the auto-production of energy. Then, in 2015, laws at the national level were updated to make a similar requirement, catching up with what had been done in Torri previously.

More recently, in 2016, a new rule was introduced at the municipal level requiring all new commercial areas to include electric car charging stations.

6) Can you explain a little more in depth how the SEAP interacts with policies at the regional or national level? How is implementation of the SEAP affected by these policies?

In some cases, the SEAP anticipated what have since then become national policies regarding energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. What was originally planned in the SEAP was innovative because it introduced concepts that did not yet exist in policy at the national level. Now, after 4 to 5 years, national policies on some topics fully reflect the objectives of the SEAP. In some aspects, there is really a wonderful integration of policies at the national and local level. For example, on energy efficiency in the residential, industrial, and commercial sectors. That is not the case in the transportation sector, where in fact all the initiatives promoted by the SEAP (modification of streets, expansion of public transportation) don’t find any parallel at the national level.

Torri di Quartesolo’s experience in implementing Torri 2020 shows the many opportunities and challenges that towns and cities can face when they undertake a systematic effort to reduce emissions at the local level. The collateral benefits to urban areas, big and small, are significant and include reduced and safer traffic, direct household savings on energy consumption, and increased economic activity for local renewable energy and construction businesses.

Emissions reduction initiatives in urban areas do not only bring benefits at at the local level, but are increasingly significant for the achievement of global climate goals. Reflecting an increasing recognition of cities’ role in climate action, the Covenant of  Mayors became a global initiative in January of this year and now unites more than 7100 municipalities around the commitment to reduce emissions beyond the targets of their own national governments.


(Image: Satellite image of Torri di Quartesolo, Vicenza, 2017. Photo credit: Google Maps).