Climate Action Home Page

Buildings, Cities and Towns

Key Steps to Curb Carbon:

  • Align state building codes with the International Energy Conservation Code.
  • Expand partnerships to promote energy efficiency in buildings, including weatherizing, insulation, lighting and programmable thermostats.
  • Promote local adoption and utilization of Energy Project Assessment Districts (EPAD, also known as PACE financing) in more communities throughout Kentucky. Promote expansion of other energy efficiency incentives for new buildings and rehabilitation of older structures.
  • Offer incentives for efficient and net-zero buildings, such as the Green Schools initiative.
  • Share strategies among communities adopting “complete streets” initiatives.

Energy Efficiency in Buildings, Cities, Towns (Smart Design)

According to the US Green Building Council, buildings and transportation systems account for more than two-thirds of all GHG emissions.  Improving the efficiency of buildings can significantly reduce emissions with smart design, zoning and site selection that takes walkability and public transit into account, creating efficiencies that prevent carbon pollution and boost health.  Incentives like targeted financing can more easily make such investments a reality.

Carbon emissions provide a useful metric for many aspects of green buildings and communities, including energy, water, solid waste, materials, and transportation, but green building involves more than reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is important to set goals for other issues as well, such as indoor air quality, human health, and habitat protection.

An example of comprehensive city sustainability planning in Kentucky can be found in the new Sustain Louisville initiative, which has set 17 city-wide goals with target dates in six categories:  energy, environment, transportation, economy, community and engagement.  In addition to energy efficiency, the plan also addresses urban heat islands and urban forestry, and includes a GHG inventory for tracking progress.

This kind of planning not only address climate change and carbon reduction, but when strategically aligned with community needs, these programs can also support improved resilience and quality of life for low-income communities. The International Housing Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy and education organization focused on urbanization and shelter for the poor, recently published Adapting to Climate Change: Cities and the Urban Poor, a report discussing global climate change and its potential disproportionate effects on cities and the urban poor.

By providing proper incentives for efficiency and improvements, a community can more easily address housing that is of poor quality and vulnerable to excess heating and cooling expense. Despite being among those most threatened by climate change, poor urban dwellers often are politically marginalized and not empowered to address these kinds of inefficiencies.

There are some wonderful resources for low income and rural energy efficiency through the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED). MACED offers residential and commercial building incentives such as energy audits and special financing programs.


Additional Recommendations: Encourage the Kentucky League of Cities, Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet and related entities to expand partnerships and educational opportunities for more cities to share information to set city wide energy efficiency goals.

Energy Project Assessment Districts
(also known as EPAD/PACE)

KCC’s Resource Page on Energy Project Assessment Districts.

The Energy Project Assessment District Act of 2015 (the “EPAD Act” or HB100), was signed into law by Kentucky’s Governor, Steve Beshear in April 2015. The act provides an additional, innovative, proven way for commercial property owners to pay for:

  • Energy Efficiency Upgrades
  • On-site Renewable Energy Projects
  • Water Conservation Measures

This kind of financing can have a dramatic impact on a city’s ability to advance important energy efficiency investments. EPAD funding is arranged for 100% of a project’s costs, and is repaid by participating property owners with a voluntary assessment on the property tax bill over a term of up to 20 years.  This type of program – known elsewhere as Property Assessed Clean Energy (“PACE”) is available in 31 states. The Ivy Knoll Retirement Community (pictured above) is the first EPAD project in Kentucky.  Currently there are nine cities and communities in Kentucky that have either adopted a local EPAD ordinance or are in process of implementing EPAD projects.

The state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet currently provides a guide for creating EPAD programs in your community. Other entities such as Energize Kentucky provide training for property owners.

Net Zero Buildings and Green Schools

While Kentucky’s carbon impact is high compared to most states, we claim some major successes in the areas of energy efficiency when it comes to school buildings. Richardsville Elementary, near Bowling Green, is home to the nation’s first Net Zero School!  Its solar panels produce as much clean energy as it consumes, saving enough to pay for two extra teaching assistants.

Kentucky consistently has led the way with recognition from the USEPA’s EnergyStar program.  The School Energy Managers Project (SEMP) is a statewide program formed in 2010 to help school districts “reduce rising energy costs that are straining school budgets.”  To date, 173 school districts have significantly improved efficiency in 448 schools, eliminating $225 million in energy costs.



Climate Reality Project Feature – Richardsville Elementary School from SCB Architects on Vimeo.


And Richardsville is not an exception. Kentucky has consistently led the way with recognition from the EPA’s EnergyStar program for school efficiency. The School Energy Managers Project (SEMP) was formed within Kentucky School Boards Association in 2010 to help school districts comply with KRS 160.325, which was enacted “in an effort to reduce rising energy costs that are straining school budgets.” This has resulted in 173 school districts significantly improving efficiency for 448 schools, resulting in $225 million in avoided energy costs to date.


Walkable Communities/”Complete Streets” Design

This approach to urban, suburban and rural planning integrates people and place into the planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of our transportation networks. It ensures streets are safer for people of all ages and mobilities, balances the needs of different modes and supports local land uses, economies andnatural landscapes.

According to the American Auto Association, the annual cost of operating a personal vehicle is over $8,000. Complete Streets offer more choices to Kentuckians who cannot, or choose not, to operate private automobiles—raising employment, reducing collision injuries, expanding recreation options and improving public health.

Many communities in Kentucky have adopted specific “complete streets” planning policies, including Corinth:

Corinth (Resolution No. 002-2014), Crittenden (Municipal Order No. 2017), Dry Ridge (Resolution No. 2015-01), Grant County (Complete Streets Policy), Independence (Municipal Order No. 2015-MO-03), Louisville (Complete Streets Manual, Cornerstone 2020 Comprehensive Plan: Complete Streets Ordinance), Riceland (Ordinance 2012-3), South Shore (Ordinance 316-2012), Taylor Mill (Municipal Order No. 63), and Williamstown (Municipal Order 2013-13).

More Resource Links:


Guest Post: Complete Streets Are Designed to Improve Health

Complete Streets

Additional Links: