A domino effect of local government green initiatives is sweeping the nation. The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) recently announced that more than 700 mayors have signed the USCM's Climate Protection Agreement, committing to pursue numerous green measures. 

In Waukesha, Wis., however, a major green rollout was implemented before the pressure to conform started, and many local governments soon plan to do many of the things Waukesha has already completed.  

Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson attended his first USCM event in 2006, when the organization first asked mayors to sign the agreement. 

Nelson said he wanted to hold back until he could show an actual Waukesha green initiative. He confidently signed onto the agreement this year.   

"In talking to different mayors, I got the impression that some were really doing a lot," he said, "but some were kind of paying lip service." 

The city tapped Johnson Controls, which specializes in building efficiency and power solutions, to do an energy efficiency audit of Waukesha. The result was a massive greening project that changed the way the city lights buildings and traffic signals, uses water and cools its IT data center. 

The project cost $1.6 million, and $400,000 came from a federal grant to replace all traffic lights with light-emitting diode (LED) technology. The city expects to save $2 million over the next 10 years for its trouble. And if the projected savings prove false, Johnson Controls will reimburse the city for its investment.

Light with Less Energy
Roughly 20 percent of man-made greenhouse gases comes from lighting, making energy-efficient light bulbs an obvious solution for city governments. The mayor's team attached "daylight harvesting" devices to the fluorescent lights in several buildings to gauge existing natural light and adjust how much artificial light the bulbs emit. Light energy usage drops 80 percent during peak sunshine time using these devices.

The city deployed these sensors only in buildings with plentiful access to natural light.

"We put the light sensors in the police department, library, wastewater treatment plant -- which is many facilities within a plant -- and City Hall," said Katie Jelacic, spokeswoman for the Waukesha Department of Public Works.

She said the project put Waukesha ahead of most cities in the Midwest. The city was the first in its county to implement a major green initiative. 

"Sustainable energy will eventually become a required code, at least around the Midwest. They're right on the cutting edge, and I assume we will be using them exclusively in our buildings," Jelacic said. 

Also, skylights are becoming a standard inclusion in new government and private- sector buildings, often mandated by government, said Kip Hirschbach, CEO of Axis Technologies, Waukesha's daylight harvesting provider. Naturally Axis Technologies' business is surging because of it, he said.     

The city also slashed energy usage at traffic lights by converting them to LED technology. LED traffic lights last 10 years, compared with two years for traditional bulbs. This enabled the city to drastically reduce traffic light maintenance, which clogs busy streets. 

Jelacic said the LED conversion would cut the cost of running a single intersection from $1,200 to $450 per year.

Other Efficiencies
Data centers are typically a massive power drain for governments, making green data centers critical power savers. Waukesha deployed a more energy-efficient cooling system in its data center, which at roughly 680 square feet, is larger than the facilities in most nearby cities, said Bret Mantey, IT director of Waukesha.

"It compares to the county data center closely, but not as large as, say, Milwaukee. All other cities in the county are a broom closet in comparison," Mantey said.

The city uses blade servers and server virtualization to reduce the number of servers it powers in the

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.