South Chula Vista Library
Living Coast Discovery Center
Civic Center Library

Saving Energy and Money through City-owned Building
Benchmarking and Retrofits

The second largest city in San Diego County, Chula Vista is a leader in local government sustainability, adopting its first citywide climate action plan in 2000. Since then, the city has won numerous awards for its environmental efforts, including a Climate Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and an Energy Showcase Award from San Diego Gas & Electric® (SDG&E).

Chula Vista began benchmarking its buildings in 2010. One of the driving forces was an opportunity to receive utility incentives for examining the energy performance of its buildings. At this time, the city also became a partner with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Better Buildings® Challenge.

Organizations committing to the Better Buildings Challenge agree to

    • Conduct an energy efficiency assessment of their building portfolio and pledge an organization-wide energy savings goal
    • Take action by showcasing an energy efficiency project and implementing a plan to achieve lasting energy savings
    • Report results by sharing cost-effective approaches for saving energy and performance data that demonstrates the success [1]

Through its participation in the Better Buildings Challenge, the city began benchmarking more of its building portfolio and ultimately received ENERGY STAR® Certification for three of its administrative buildings in 2011. Benchmarking using ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® provided the city with a central database of consumption information for its large portfolio of buildings. Centralizing the information in Portfolio Manager made it possible for staff to review the properties and to prioritize which properties would undergo energy audits. In turn, the energy audits helped inform the city as it pursued HVAC and lighting repairs and retrofits.

By 2014, the city’s benchmarking efforts were bolstered when the city adopted the City Operations Sustainability Plan. Benchmarking is a key strategy in the plan to help the city achieve its goal of reducing municipal energy use by 20% by 2020.

“Benchmarking is a good place to start to see how your buildings compare to others and gives you a better picture of what you have.” – Alejandro Ruiz Velasco, Conservation Specialist, City of Chula Vista


Direct funding for benchmarking activities and energy efficiency efforts is provided by California ratepayers via the city’s participation in a local government partnership with SDG&E and other local jurisdictions. SDG&E’s Direct Install Program, now known as SDG&E’s Business Energy Solutions Program, provided advice and funding for various energy efficiency retrofits, such as LED lighting, throughout Chula Vista’s building portfolio.

City of Chula Vista Energy Improvement Timeline

What is an Energy Audit?

An energy audit is a way to assess a building’s energy needs and efficiency. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers® (ASHRAE) develops best practices for conducting energy audits, which have become the U.S. gold standard. ASHRAE specifies three levels of audits.

Level 1: Walk-through
Level 2: Energy survey and analysis

Level 3: Detailed survey and analysis


Benchmarking against a 2010 baseline, Chula Vista has improved energy performance by 18% across its portfolio. Approximately 8% of the savings resulted from lighting retrofits, while the remaining 10% came from HVAC repairs and retrofits at several facilities. Additionally, the city has further reduced its demand for grid electricity by 11% through the installation of 1.7 megawatts of solar panels. The city reinvested the money saved by these energy efficiency projects into their general fund.

“There’s always a way to save money and energy. If you look for it, you can find it.”
– Alejandro Ruiz Velasco, Conservation Specialist, City of Chula Vista

Control system for new HVAC unit installed at the South Chula Vista Library

South Chula Vista Library

The South Chula Vista Library is a great example of the importance of pursuing energy efficiency retrofits. The city achieved a 10% reduction in energy consumption through the installation of a new HVAC unit. The old unit ran at a fraction of its capacity and required constant maintenance.

Overall, the city has seen an almost 17% reduction in electric usage at the library when comparing Q1-Q2 2015 to the same period in 2016.

Civic Center Library

Replaced accent lighting with LEDs at the Civic Center Library

In 2015, the city replaced area accent lighting with LEDs at the Civic Center Library through SDG&E’s Direct Install program. A highlight is the Chula Vista Heritage Museum exhibit housed in the library that features 100% LED lighting.

The Civic Center Library auditorium received enhancing upgrades and updates to the mechanical and lighting systems.

Upgraded lighting systems in the Civic Center Library auditorium

Retrofitted accent lighting, spotlights and recessed lighting at the Living Coast Discovery Center

Living Coast Discovery Center

In spring 2016, the city retrofitted accent lighting, spotlights and recessed lighting at the Living Coast Discovery Center. Since, the city has seen more than a 14% reduction in electric usage in comparison to Q1-Q2 2015 in 2016

Future Improvements

Chula Vista is currently performing a citywide lighting retrofit in 28 city-owned buildings, funded by utility rebates and on-bill financing. The city also is looking toward future energy projects, including battery storage, solar and wind, with the overall goal of reaching zero net energy.

To learn more about the city's efforts to save energy please visit

Learn more about the Center for Sustainable Energy’s Zero Net Energy Roadmap for Local Governments.    

What is Zero Net Energy (ZNE)?

While there are many definitions for zero net energy buildings, a broadly used definition is that a zero net energy building produces as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year.

Learn more about the Center for Sustainable Energy’s Zero Net Energy Roadmap for Local Governments.

[1] U.S. Department of Energy. (n.d.) Better Buildings Challenge. Retrieved July 18, 2016, from

Last Updated September 2016.

This is a project of the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative, which is partially funded by California utility customers and administered by San Diego Gas & Electric® (SDG&E) under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission. The Center for Sustainable Energy® is a member of the collaborative. Trademarks are property of their respective owners.