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By Brice Wallace

A new Salt Lake City ordinance will require benchmarking and annual measuring of energy use by commercial buildings of over 25,000 square feet.

The city council recently passed the ordinance, proposed by Mayor Jackie Biskupski and the city’s Sustainability Department, which is designed to cut energy costs, improve local air quality and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

“This ordinance has been in the works for over a year,” Biskupski said. “Over that time, it’s been a case study in collaborative policymaking, and I want to thank all the stakeholders involved. I’m proud that we ended up with a policy that will help clear the air, save building owners’ money, improve transparency and reduce Salt Lake City’s carbon footprint.”

The Energy Benchmarking & Transparency Ordinance has a phase-in of new requirements for commercial buildings over 25,000 square feet. Building owners must have a benchmark of their energy consumption and report it to the city in May 2020. Commercial buildings of 50,000 square feet or more much benchmark and report by May 2019. Energy consumption reports going forward will be required annually, with owners using free online Energy Star Portfolio Manager software, with automation services made possible through local utilities Rocky Mountain Power and Dominion Energy.

The Portfolio Manager tool will give buildings an energy score from 1 to 100, with anything 75 or above considered to be high-performing. The score gives buildings a standard metric through which to gauge their performance over time as well as against buildings of similar use and type. It also allows building owners and managers to identify if their buildings are good candidates for voluntary efficiency improvements to reduce energy waste and air pollution.

Starting in 2020, the city will publish a list of all commercial buildings receiving an above-average Energy Star score — 50 or above — and building owners will have the option of displaying their actual scores. Energy Star-certifiable buildings — those with a score of 75 and above — will automatically be  contenders at the annual Skyline Challenge Awards, an event that honors the top energy efficiency leaders in Utah.

The ordinance also will create a resource center, housed in the Sustainability Department, to help building managers understand the range of tools and incentives available to voluntarily upgrade equipment to reduce costs and prevent pollution.

Salt Lake City already has begun benchmarking of municipal buildings, with its Energy Star score to be reported in 2018.

The ordinance is projected to save local buildings owners $15.8 million in annual energy costs and eliminate more than 29 tons of criteria pollutants from Salt Lake City’s air annually.

“This ordinance is a win-win,” said Vicki Bennett, director of the Sustainability Department. “It requires certain buildings to undertake mandatory measurement of their energy use and report it to the city. That is all. It’s then up to building owners and managers to decide if they want to make voluntary energy-efficiency improvements that will save them money.

“We think they will, after seeing the dollars and cents they’ll save. Increasing the number of buildings saving energy will then go a long way to clearing our air and reducing Salt Lake City’s carbon footprint.”

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has said that homes, restaurants, small businesses and commercial buildings contribute 39 percent of the Salt Lake Valley’s air pollution on a typical winter day. Commercial buildings supply 10 percent of that.

Analysis from the city’s Department of Sustainability and the nonprofit City Energy Project indicates that the ordinance will cut an estimated 29 tons of nitrogen oxides — a key contributor to wintertime air pollution — from the air each year.  More gains can be realized if building owners voluntarily tune-up their buildings or install new equipment.

“Nonresidential buildings represent 51 percent of Salt Lake City’s community-wide carbon footprint,” said Kevin Emerson, director of energy efficiency programs for Utah Clean Energy, a local nonprofit. “By adopting this this innovative policy, Utah’s capital city is leading the way to help improve air quality and lower climate emissions by using market forces to encourage greater levels of energy savings in large buildings.

“Utah Clean Energy has long worked to reduce energy waste from our homes and buildings and this ordinance is a giant leap forward in reducing unnecessary pollution from buildings in a way that also benefits businesses’ bottom line.”

Utah Clean Energy said Salt Lake City is the 25th U.S. city to enact a policy of this type and called it “a big win and vital step forward for Salt Lake City’s air quality and economy.”

The ordinance also helps the city achieve its “Climate Positive” goals of transitioning the community to 100 percent clean electricity by 2032, followed by an overall greenhouse gas reduction of 80 percent by 2040.

“The city’s carbon reduction goals are aggressive, but they are completely attainable with strategies like this to reduce emissions,” said council member Erin Mendenhall. “Cities use these types of programs and tools effectively across the country to improve air quality, and those cities are successful at attracting talent and economic development, because this is important to people.”

Among business leaders who submitted comments to the city in favor of the ordinance are Bob Best of commercial real estate company JLL; Hanko Kiessner of Packsize; Kenner Kingston, president of Arch Nexus; and Adam Knoff of commercial real estate company Unico Properties.

Details about the ordinance are at www.slcgreen.com/elevatebuildings.