Mid-Size MN communities blaze building energy benchmarking trail
Using benchmarking to better manage buildings’ energy use is steadily gaining steam. Across the country, 26 cities are currently implementing energy performance benchmarking in large, commercial, multifamily, and public buildings — plus nine more states are benchmarking public building performance, and two states are benchmarking private commercial building performance.
In the last two years, giant metros like Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco have been joined by new benchmarking implementers in smaller cities like Evanston, Cambridge, Boulder, and Berkeley, each boasting just 75,000 to 120,000 residents. (Map source: IMT Building Rating)
Here in Minnesota, our cities have emerged as hotbeds for energy action. Energy and climate-related planning are bringing together residents, institutions, and small businesses to build goals around energy and cost savings, economic development, and jobs. Two examples of programs bringing this work to communities are Minnesota GreenStep Cities (a program of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) and Xcel Energy’s Partners in Energy program. Green Step Cities develops energy best practices in the public building realm, and the 112 participating communities have taken actions from drafting city energy goals to integrating energy or climate goals into more comprehensive plans. In Xcel Energy’s Minnesota service territory, 13 communities have developed energy action plans through Partners in Energy.
Goal-oriented energy action is spreading statewide among cities of all sizes who are getting smarter about using available tools to help deliver on new and expanding goals — and energy benchmarking in buildings is chief among the tools they’re considering.
In March CEE and GreenStep Cities co-hosted a workshop for representatives of mid-sized cities to talk with experts about the benefits and challenges of benchmarking buildings. Local and national experts led the group to explore known questions and barriers, while uncovering other important considerations.
Attended by city sustainability staff, commissioners, county leaders, community advocates, and technical experts, the workshop was one of the first of its kind in the country. Participants discussed the variety of policy options that mid-size cities might consider such as how to coordinate with surrounding communities for uniformity in the market, early engagement with utilities, and voluntary or mandatory participation.
Zach Hart, Manager of Building Energy Performance Policy at the Institute for Market Transformation in Washington, D.C., pointed to information transparency as the first in a series of building energy efficiency barriers — if you can’t effectively measure something, how can you improve it?
Hart highlighted the benefits of benchmarking in early-adopter cities. According to an EPA study published in 2012, buildings that comply with benchmarking are reducing annual energy use by an average of 2.4%. And approximately two-thirds of buildings that participate take steps to improve energy efficiency, a higher percentage than those buildings that don’t regularly track their energy performance.
Katie Jones Schmitt, Benchmarking Policy and Outreach Specialist at CEE and the City of Minneapolis, delivered an “on-the-ground” perspective. The City of Minneapolis is driven by both its Climate Action Plan goals as well as principles to increase green jobs while still maintaining a light regulatory touch. Schmitt’s work involves providing the technical support that building operators and owners need to comply with the ordinance. She spoke about the vital need to engage building operators in ongoing and targeted ways, especially in early years of implementation.
Examples from a local building manager and from a mid-size city shed additional light on the benefits and relative ease of benchmarking. Angela Samargia of McGough and Senior Property Manager for the Butler Building in downtown Minneapolis shared her team’s story. The Butler Building owner and tenants have made multiple improvements since being trained on how to regularly track their energy intensity. Samargia noted, “Benchmarking [information] is included in our quarterly reports, which helps me look smart and our brokers now regularly use this information to market our building.” Another attendee from Evanston, Illinois, shared a story about a “data jam” exercise that provided building owners with mock data-entry scenarios to demystify perceived burdens.
Because larger city governments often play key roles in technical assistance, building operator engagement, data quality, and energy program improvement, our benchmarking workshop pivoted to a conversation about possible solutions for mid-sized cities.
Leah Hiniker, Hennepin County’s Energy Manager of Facility Services, and Sarah Jordan, MN GreenCorps member, unveiled a new countywide platform [website pending] to be piloted later this year to make. Driven by Hennepin County’s own sustainability goals, Hiniker’s team is working with CEE to develop a process and online tools benchmarking easier for smaller cities. Through this platform, cities will benefit from shared technical assistance and quality assurance services provided by CEE. Hennepin County sees the resources the platform provides as crucial to helping communities leverage benchmarking benefits. In a post-workshop survey, attendees overwhelmingly identified this news of Hennepin County’s upcoming benchmarking platform to be the information they found most memorable.
Hennepin County intends to launch pilots in five cities before summer’s end. Mid-sized Minnesota communities should be sure to follow Hennepin County’s progress, and keep an eye on other counties that will surely follow suit.
If you are interested to participate in the Hennepin County Energy Benchmarking Platform pilot, contact Sarah Jordan Sarah.Jordan@hennepin.us or Leah Hiniker Leah.Hiniker@hennepin.us.