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Energy Efficiency

Minneapolis considers mandatory energy use disclosure for city’s biggest users

If you’ve cut your family’s energy and water use at home, you know your efforts have saved money and helped the environment. But have you wondered if owners of those big buildings in downtown Minneapolis are following suit? The City of Minneapolis is taking steps that will make that information available, building awareness and showcasing commercial buildings that have already beefed up their energy efficiency.

The City of Minneapolis is considering an ordinance that will require owners or tenants of public and large commercial buildings to track and publicly disclose the amount of energy their buildings use. Energy use in commercial and industrial buildings in Minneapolis accounted for more than 44 percent of the city’s community-wide carbon emissions in 2010.

Leveraging market forces

The ordinance leverages market forces (not “performance or design mandates”) to increase public awareness and motivate owners and tenants to invest in energy efficiency improvements that create jobs, save money, and cut carbon emissions. Under the proposed ordinance, a building’s owner, operator, or manager would be responsible for tracking energy and water consumption using a free tool called the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. The tool generates an energy performance score for each building, similar to a vehicle’s fuel economy rating. The City would receive the data, which would later be made public. The disclosure ordinance is one way that the Minneapolis City Council is working towards its adopted targets to reduce community-wide carbon reduction of 15 percent by 2015 and 30 percent by 2025.

The number of Minneapolis buildings that would need to disclose energy and water use would increase slowly over two years. According to the proposed ordinance, the first phase—beginning May 1, 2013—would cover more than 40 Minneapolis-owned buildings and a few public sector buildings. In 2014, commercial buildings larger than 100,000 square feet—roughly 380 in Minneapolis—would be required to report their energy use. In 2015, commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet would join the effort, representing more than 70 percent of the total commercial square footage in the city. By the time the ordinance is fully phased in, the public will have access to energy use data for approximately 600 buildings.

Across the nation

Many cities—including New York—already have disclosure requirements. “Some scores will not be flattering, but identifying buildings with the most opportunity to improve is a big part of driving energy savings,” said Andrew C. Burr, a performance expert at the Institute for Market Transformation, a Washington D.C. advocacy organization promoting energy efficiency. The Institute helped New York analyze its results. “It does put energy on the radar of real estate consumers.”

Across the nation, existing energy disclosure policies are projected to impact more than four billion square feet of floor space annually by 2014. Similar policies are under consideration in more than 10 states and local jurisdictions, but the greatest impact would be made with a national building energy rating and disclosure policy. According to a study by the Institute for Market Transformation and the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a federal disclosure policy could create more than 23,000 new jobs in 2015 and more than 59,000 jobs in 2020. It would also reduce energy costs for building owners, consumers, and businesses by approximately $18 billion through 2020. In terms of carbon reduction, it could potentially reduce annual energy consumption in the U.S. building sector by an amount similar to taking more than three million cars off the road each year.

If you’ve cut your family's energy and water use at home, you know your efforts have saved money and helped the environment. But have you wondered if owners of those big buildings in downtown Minneapolis are following suit? The City of Minneapolis is taking steps that will make that information available, building awareness and showcasing commercial buildings that have already beefed up their energy efficiency.

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