Committing to a Stronger City through Better Buildings: The City Energy Project

This article was originally published in the SaportaReport Thought Leaders column in May 2015.

The building sector is the single largest user of energy in the United States, accounting for roughly 40 percent of total energy consumption. In cities, however, that figure can be even higher: 60, 70, even 75 percent, and much of that energy is wasted. The City Energy Project (CEP) is a national initiative to cut energy waste in large buildings and make American cities healthier and more prosperous through energy efficiency. Atlanta has joined nine other pioneering cities in the City Energy Project to boost local economies, reduce pollution and help shape next-generation energy efficiency strategies for communities nationwide.

In order to continue Atlanta’s progress toward becoming a top-tier city for sustainability, the City Energy Project represents an opportunity to remain competitive in the Southeast’s rapidly recovering real estate market. The centerpiece of the City Energy Project is the Commercial Energy Efficiency Ordinance. In a nutshell, the Commercial Energy Efficiency Ordinance provides prospective tenants or buyers the type of information a “Miles per Gallon” sticker delivers for a car. Southface was pleased to work with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability under Director Denise Quarles, along with real estate and industry leaders, to engage around a model ordinance to be put before the Atlanta City Council that met the intentions of the national program while addressing local real estate industry concerns.

On April 20, Atlanta City Council passed the ordinance, which will require properties over 25,000 square feet to comply with energy and water efficiency requirements. The ordinance is comprised of four main parts: benchmarking, transparency, energy audits, and retro-commissioning. The ordinance details the types and sizes of buildings subject to the requirements and recommendations of the ordinance and includes the timeline for the phased-in approach.

Benchmarking: Using Energy Star Portfolio Manager®, facility managers will track energy and water consumption. (Buildings enrolled in the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge will already be meeting this requirement.)

Transparency: A key to the program, properties will send benchmarking data to the City of Atlanta, where it will be verified and made publicly available, thereby reinforcing market queues on efficiency.

Energy audits: required every 10 years, audits will identify opportunities to improve building performance, revealing to building owners energy efficiency investments and their associated returns.

Retro-commissioning: A review of mechanical systems to ensure they are operating at peak efficiency; this is currently a voluntary component of the program.
While arguably the most valuable component of the ordinance, retro-commissioning was made voluntary as a concession to the real estate industry. The retro-commissioning protocol was left in the ordinance in the hopes that the real estate industry can work with the city to find incentives to offset the initial cost burden. Another concession regards transparency. If buildings perform below the national median, their results will not be published.

Properties over 50,000 square feet will need to complete their first benchmarking report for 2014 energy and water consumption by July 20, 2015. Buildings 25,000 – 50,000 square feet will have until 2017 to complete the benchmarking. Southface, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability under new Director Stephanie Stuckey Benfield and Buildings Energy Efficiency Manager Dr. Matt Cox, along with other real estate and energy efficiency industry leaders, are partnering to provide information sessions and a help desk on how to comply with the new ordinance.

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