Cities push for energy data on commercial buildings

As a way to incentivize landlords to compete for lower operational costs, Minneapolis is the latest U.S. city — and the first in the Midwest — to adopt an energy benchmarking and disclosure rule for commercial buildings.

Private commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet in Minneapolis must report energy and water use annually beginning in 2015. The policy — already adopted in Austin, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. — is meant to bolster market forces, rather than requiring building design mandates, and motivate owners and tenants to invest in energy efficiency improvements.

"This kind of transparency builds on our strengths in Minneapolis around energy efficiency,” said Elizabeth Glidden, Minneapolis City Council member and author of the ordinance. “Other cities’ experiences with disclosure requirements are showing that they will result in lower energy costs for businesses."

Walking the walk, the city of Minneapolis and other public offices will lead by example and begin publicly disclosing energy and water use in buildings larger than 25,000 square feet starting this year.

As with other city benchmarking ordinances, Minneapolis will help building owners tap free software (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Portfolio Manager) to measure a building's energy and water performance and generating a score. Additional free services are available for building owners including a drop-in help center, benchmarking workshops, daily technical assistance and a how-to guide.

Last week, the city of Seattle announced more than 87 percent of its commercial and multifamily buildings are now tracking and reporting building energy performance, representing about 1,160 individual properties and more than 200 million square feet of building space.

“Benchmarking lets you see trends and how your building compares with others. As a facilities manager, I am always looking for ways to lower costs, and being energy efficient is a way to do that, which benefits my company and its customers,” said Stephen Chandler, facilities manager at Verity Credit Union, in a statement.

Indeed, as cities gather more information on commercial building performance, the data is yielding some surprising results for energy use. Notably, New York City is finding wide discrepancies in the city's building stock with less-than-stellar performance of some LEED buildings and older buildings not necessarily posing the biggest energy challenge.

Older buildings with higher Energy Star scores tend to have thicker walls, fewer windows and less ventilation. Also, those buildings aren't usually the most sought after by technology-minded businesses with loads of energy-hogging computer gear.

Modern downtown of Minneapolis, Minnesota photo by Henryk Sadura via Shutterstock