Council reviews energy ordinance

The ordinance would require buildings to report their energy use.

by Jessica Lee

The Minneapolis City Council is reviewing a proposed ordinance that would require large commercial buildings to report energy use.

The proposal, headed by Councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden, follows a trend in major cities to drive down energy emissions and create new green jobs.

“We looked at what other cities were developing around the country, and we recognized that Minneapolis has a role to play in bettering the environment,” Glidden said. “It’s our job to make measures around that.”

The policy would make it mandatory for all owners of commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to submit the building’s energy use, which would be calculated and scored by a government-backed program. The ratings would then be posted online for the public to see.

Building owners in San Francisco, where a similar action was implemented last year, were initially worried that a poor public rating would harm their business, Glidden said, “but they are finding out that isn’t really the case.”

“There are a lot of things building tenants have on their mind,” said project coordinator Brendon Slotterback. “I think energy usage is just one thing on a really long list, and we are pretty confident that this isn’t going to have a dramatic impact on lowering business.”

University of Minnesota aerospace engineering sophomore Thomas Georgiou said building owners should look at “the bigger picture” instead of worrying about whether or not the ratings would hurt their sales.

“Profits in business is important, but even more important is the well-being and future of the planet,” said Georgiou, treasurer for The Green Group, a University student organization that promotes sustainability.

Glidden said that in the cities the council looked at — San Francisco, New York and Chicago — building owners didn’t think negative ratings had a significant impact on their business.

“Even though property owners might be concerned about the ratings being disclosed, I think this is a step for Minnesota moving in a greener direction,” said Devan Grimsrud, journalism sophomore and vice president of The Green Group.

The building’s utility submissions would go through Energy Star, a government-backed program, and the city would publish its ratings on a scale of 1 to 100.

“The ordinance doesn’t require any action after they have benchmarked their use and reported it to the city,” Slotterback said. “We think that just the action of benchmarking, kind of figuring out their usage, will help some business owners understand their energy use a little better, and that might result in some actions.”

Besides looking to improve the environment, the project aims to stimulate the city’s economy by creating jobs in the sustainability field.

Ron Pilkington’s job in San Francisco, for example, is dedicated to ensuring building owners keep up with city ordinances.

“San Francisco certainly encourages green buildings without a question,” said Pilkington, air quality inspector for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. “I’m from a different perspective, though — it’s my job.”

Glidden said she aggressively promotes sustainability efforts, like the proposed ordinance, so the city can reach its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. In 2012, the city set a goal to cut emissions by 15 percent by 2015.

“We know the City of Minneapolis’ large commercial buildings contribute a lot of greenhouse gases and have an impact on the environment,” Glidden said. “There is more that can be done to make those buildings green or energy efficient.”

The ordinance will get its first public hearing in January. The policy, if passed, would apply to 551 commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet and all city-owned buildings bigger than 25,000 square feet, Slotterback said.

The official list of the buildings this ordinance would affect is not finalized.