Green Digest: Large buildings must report energy use June 1

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March 17, 2014
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
Plus: volunteers needed for wetland monitoring and spring raingarden workshops

In less than three months, the owners of Minneapolis’ largest commercial buildings will have to tell the city how much energy those buildings are consuming.

The scores for individual buildings won’t be made public until 2015, and even then there won’t be any penalties for energy hogs. But the process may spur building owners to consider their energy use — and how much they’re paying for it — and invest in efficiency upgrades.

That was the idea behind the energy benchmarking and disclosure ordinance passed by the City Council in February 2013, explained Brendon Slotterback, the city’s sustainability program coordinator.

“We think having a conversation about those scores is going to have an impact on how buildings perform and it’s going to get some people’s attention,” Slotterback said. “I think we’re going to see how that works without any sort of mandate they make improvements.”

The upcoming June 1 reporting deadline is for commercial buildings 100,000 square feet and larger. There are more than 200 of them in Minneapolis with a combined 90 million square feet of floor space, including offices, hospitals and the sporting venues where the Twins, Vikings and Timberwolves play.

In June 2015, buildings 50,000 square feet and larger enter the program. Their data will be made public in 2016.

The city went first, releasing a report in November on its own buildings of at least 25,000 square feet, as well as those operated by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Minneapolis Public Schools and Hennepin County. It found the energy consumption by the 102 buildings accounted for about 3 percent of citywide greenhouse gas emissions, and that a 10-percent reduction in energy use would save an estimated $2.5 million per year.

About half of those public buildings were eligible for an efficiency rating through the federal Energy Star program, and as a group they scored 52 on a scale of 1–100, just above the national average of 50. Century Plaza and the Health Services Buildings were star performers, each earning Energy Star ratings of 98.

The report also noted a slight correlation between a building’s age and its Energy Star rating. Newer buildings tended to perform better, but older buildings that had gone through efficiency retrofits also posted high scores.

Slotterback said some of Minneapolis’ commercial property managers are likely already familiar with the Energy Star rating scale. Many use a free online tool, the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, to track their buildings’ energy use, and several dozen in Minneapolis already publicly report ratings online at energystar.gov.

Those who aren’t familiar with the software can pick up tips at workshops the city is hosting this spring ahead of the reporting deadline. That’s also where they’ll learn about the city’s new website for the benchmarking program and the rebates available to property owners who make efficiency improvements.

“There are lots of existing Xcel (Energy) rebates out there for these commercial building owners if they do retrofit programs,” Slotterback said. “The city itself actually has a few financing tools for commercial building owners — like low-interest loans, primarily — to help building owners finance some of these energy-efficiency projects.”

The ordinance’s definition of commercial buildings excludes industrial and residential sites, but Slotterback said the city was partnering with Xcel to create a benchmarking tool specifically for multi-tenant residential property owners.

“We want building owners to be aware of these tools and try to help connect them with as many as we can,” he said.

 

Wetland watchers wanted

The Wetland Health Evaluation Program is recruiting volunteers for its Minneapolis team — no scientific experience necessary.

During the spring and summer, WHEP teams monitor wetlands throughout Hennepin County. The teams collect insect and vegetation data that is used to track the wetlands’ environmental health.

Volunteers commit about 15 hours per month to the program from May through September. Registration is open through June 15.

For more information or to volunteer, contact WHEP coordinator Mary Karius at mary.karius@hennepin.mn or 596-9129.

 

Raingarden workshops springing up

Registration has opened for Metro Blooms’ popular Raingardens and Beyond workshops.

Each spring, the Minneapolis nonprofit offers the workshops in either two 90-minute sessions ($10 each) or one three-hour class ($15) taught by master gardeners and professional landscapers. Attendees learn how to plan and then plant a raingarden on their property.

Properly designed raingardens help to control the flow of storm water, limiting the pollutants that make their way through storm sewers into area lakes and rivers.

Workshops are hosted at various locations in the metro area, including several in Minneapolis. For more information, or to register, go to metroblooms.org.