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Minneapolis City Council to Vote on Tracking Energy in Commercial Properties
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February 05, 2013

Minneapolis City Council to Vote on Tracking Energy in Commercial Properties

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

Are businesses in Minneapolis “burning the midnight oil”—and is that a good thing? The city is about to find out.

About 630 commercial buildings—those with a capacity of 50,000 square feet or more—are targeted to participate in a new next June.  Commercial uses include offices, retail space, grocery stores, hotels, sports arenas, houses of worship, schools and healthcare facilities.

Factories, warehouses and congregant living facilities are excluded.

The proposal, unanimously passed on January 28 by the City Council’s Energy and Environment Committee (see video), would make Minneapolis the first city in the Midwest to annually measure and report energy consumption data for its commercial structures.

It will go before the full City Council for adoption this week on February 8. 

It took more than two years of work to craft the ordinance, modeled after similar policies adopted in such major cities as New York, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas; and under consideration in Chicago.

In fact, the idea originated back in September 2010 when the “Twin (News - Alert) Cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul convened a first-of-its kind green manufacturing partnership, called Thinc Green MSP, comprising business, union, not-for-profit and city leaders.

The group’s goals were to:

  • Build local markets for green products and services
  • Brand Minneapolis and St. Paul as great places for green business development
  • Create a green business-friendly environment that would attract, retain and grow cleantech companies, manufacturers, suppliers and related services

According to Minneapolis’ Sustainability Program Coordinator Brendan Slotterback, “The intent of this ordinance is to use market force — not performance or design mandates — to increase energy efficiency in existing commercial and city-owned buildings. It’s also intended to provide consistent, transparent reporting on energy and water use data— not just to owners and managers, but to tenants, potential tenants and the public at large.”

A city fact sheet emphasizes that public disclosure of energy and water metrics provides transparency and encourages competition among building owners and managers to improve efficiency. Giving tenants better information for comparing building energy use gives building owners more incentive to invest in efficiency. Some may be able to charge a “green premium,” but what’s more likely is a “brown discount,” that would provide a current tenant with bargaining chips to use a building’s relative inefficiency to negotiate better lease terms.

Based on the plan, the reporting would be facilitated by free, online software called Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which would be used by property owners and managers to enter building information (such as square footage, use types and energy usage). The software already is in use by more than 4,300 commercial building owners in the Twin Cities area, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In many cases, Portfolio Manager scores a building from 1-100 based on energy performance compared to buildings of a similar size, type and geographic region.

The benchmarking and reporting would occur on the following schedule:

  • City-owned buildings: every year starting in 2013.
  • Buildings 100,000 square feet and over: every year starting in 2014.
  • Buildings 50,000 square feet and over: every year starting in 2015.

 The city would disclose data on its own buildings in 2013. Only the largest commercial buildings — over 100,000 square feet — would need to comply in 2014, and the program would extend to 50,000-square-foot in 2015. In total, the ordinance would cover about 75 percent of the city’s total commercial square footage.

The city would wait one year to publish the first results so that owners would have a chance to make improvements. Buildings under financial distress, buildings with less than 50 percent occupancy, and buildings with less than two years of occupancy would be exempt.

Edited by Braden Becker

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