It’s all About that Base: Baseline Data, Energy Planning, & Economic Development

P32-Energy-BaselineIt’s no secret that the best strategic plans are based on qualitative and quantitative analysis, using this information to determine the best allocation of resources to pursue growth and change.  Too often, strategic planning processes “jump right in” and do not take the time to fully understand and quantify current and expected conditions. Change cannot be measured without first analyzing existing conditions to establish a baseline dataset from which change can be measured. This approach also applies to regional energy planning. As regions consider energy in relation to economic development planning, there are direct correlations to the impact energy has on people, place, and ideas. Establishing a regional energy baseline must be the first step before tactical planning can occur.

Additionally, energy planning is an often-ignored element in developing regional economic development strategies. Energy is a universal business itself, however it also impacts every single industry and business within a region. Energy directly impacts the health of people across a region, and is a critical element to regional success. How can economic development planning occur without energy planning?

We recently had the opportunity to combine baseline data work with energy planning alongside Sustainable Pittsburgh, and a range of additional presenting organizations.* This work was an exciting collaborative engagement that developed a baseline energy flowchart to provide a foundation for a regional energy plan for the greater Pittsburgh region. The goal of this project was to unite the 32-county region (called the Power of 32) around a newfound and studied understanding of the energy sources, consumption by sector, and various outcomes of that energy throughout the region surrounding the Pittsburgh MSA.

Fourth Economy served as overall project manager , in conjunction with technical expertise from Kirk Consulting, to conduct and interpret the quantitative assessment that comprehensively inventoried all major forms of energy produced and consumed within the region.  A technical advisory committee comprised of top energy officials across the U.S. also guided the analysis and report. The analysis was based on 2011 data since, at the time of the report, 2011 was the most recent year for which published consumption and production data was available across all energy types.  A complete analytical report and data visualization were created to publicly disseminate this information to regional stakeholders.

On December 11, 2014 at the Energy for the Power of 32 event, the Energy Baseline for the Power of 32 Region report was released to an audience of nearly 400 regional stakeholders, representing a cross section of public, private, and nonprofit organizations and encompassing all energy sectors throughout the region. We’ve included some great media coverage of this event and the process at the bottom of this post.

P32-Energy-Baseline-CartoonThe event went beyond the release of the Baseline, including interactive sessions on the need for energy planning, ideas for strategic implementation, and brainstorming with energy ambassadors to set the stage for the regional energy planning process. With data now in place, the Power of 32 Region is poised to better understand their energy ecosystem and be able to set planning benchmarks and goals, using the baseline data as a guide for analysis along the way.

This effort is historic. With the region’s heritage and assets, the Power of 32 Region has the potential to be among the nation’s first to lead this trend on energy planning and its potential impacts on our economy, land use, and development.  By bridging borders and recognizing shared challenges and opportunities, the region is differentiated in its commitment to improving the future of 32 counties in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Now, the planning and implementation will begin.

As regions consider energy in relation to economic development planning, there are direct correlations to the impact energy has on people, place, and ideas. But, before the planning occurs, it starts with a baseline.

We are excited to see the interest and support from the Power of 32 Region for this initiative.  What effort has your region undertaken to realize its energy potential? What areas across the U.S. have you witnessed as taking steps towards regional energy planning? Who needs help?


* Allegheny Conference on Community Development; Carnegie Mellon University, Scott Institute for Energy Innovation and Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research; Center for Energy, University of Pittsburgh; Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the WVU College of Law; Center for Energy Policy and Management, Washington & Jefferson College; Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture); Conservation Consultants, Inc.; Duquesne University’s Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences and the Center for Environmental Research and Education; Falk School of Sustainability, Chatham University; Green Building Alliance; GTECH; Institute of Politics, University of Pittsburgh; Pennsylvania Environmental Council; Power of 32; Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission; Sustainable Pittsburgh; University of Pittsburgh GSPIA Center for Metropolitan Studies; West Virginia University