200 Market Street (photo by Brian Libby)
BY BRIAN LIBBY
Recently the City of Portland passed a new requirement for commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet to disclose their energy performance. Mandatory compliance will begin April 22, 2016. A year later, buildings over 20,000 square feet will be required to disclose their data.
Although it's unsurprising that some commercial building owners and developers have and will continue to argue that this data disclosure requirement will hinder their ability to make maximum profits by allowing them to avoid energy-efficient upgrades, the program is a major step in the right direction for the city overall. What's more, Portland isn't going nearly as far as certain other cities, like New York, which not only require disclosure of energy data but require buildings not meeting certain efficiency standards to be upgraded.
On November 17 and 18, the City of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability will host a free information session geared to help commercial building operators understand their obligations and opportunities.
Recently I talked with Alisa Kane, the bureau's green building manager, about the new policy and what it both means for and says about Portland's broader sustainability efforts.
Portland Architecture: How did the City of Portland arrive at its new benchmarking program?
Alisa Kane: We’ve been discussing this as an option for close to seven years. The city’s long had this requirement for its own buildings. Over time we learned that we needed to do some more work to make building owners more comfortable with what we were proposing. It led to us partnering with the Northwest Energy Efficincy Alliance, the Energy Trust, BOMA Oregon, Clark County, and the utilities to promote a voluntary program, the Kilowatt Crackdown. We wanted to see if we could partner to increase participation and see if it’s possible to do what other cities have done as a volunteer program. While we were pleased with the energy savings assessed, participation wasn’t what it needed to be. Voluntary wasn’t enough.
So we went back to the drawing board. In that time, probably 11 other cities moved forward. We worked with the Institute for Market Transformation to stay current on benchmarking disclosure and policies. One of the fortunate things was we learned a lot: what worked, what didn’t. We could take nuggets from Chicago or DC and apply them. That gave us a strong start on policy discussions.
How much pushback did you get from the private sector, beyond their sluggish response to voluntary disclosure?
My first call was to BOMA [the Building Owners and Managers Association]. They’re the ones most opposed to this. I think because we’d partnered through the Kilowatt Crackdown they weren’t surprised we were coming in. I’d characterize BOMA as never going to say they supported this policy. They just don’t. BOMA International doesn’t. We said, ‘We recognize a difference of opinion. Let’s make it work as best we can.’ So they were there throughout the process, along with the building community, energy partners, and utilities. We talked to hundreds of people in our outreach process to help shape the details of the policy.
By the time we got to city council, we had found a broader consensus than when we started. There were people looking forward to this, saying, ‘We may not always like it when the city tells us what to do but we’ll embrace it.’ We had virtually no one in true opposition. People said, ‘We don’t love it but we’ll do it.’
It passed 5-0 in City Council. We were city number 13.
How has implementation progressed?
After we did our happy dance, we then went on to start thinking, ‘What do we need to put a program in place?’ First was the administrative rules, a way of supporting the ordinance in an administrative way: ‘This is how this policy will be implemented.’ We reconvened the stakeholder group to make sure they had a say in that language. That had its own process. That got successfully adopted in October in parallel step. We’ve been trying to put together this puzzle of program elements, so early next year people wanting to start complying can do so.
Right now we are in full program development mode. The good news is we’ll be hiring a person to answer a help desk. We’ll help with anything from how you access Energy Star online to how you get your utility data. Is my building scorable, not scorable? They will be the front lines of implementation. We’ve seen in the other cities you need a help desk, at least for the first two years. We also want to get the word out so there are no surprises, contacting owners and the vendor community and people working on maintenance issues, policy advocates. Everybody’s been told repeatedly. That leads us up to this big event on November 17 and 18. This will allow people to come in and get a general sense of what they need to do. The US EPA will send delegates to give an overview of Energy Star Manager.
We’ve had great success already and have done fairly limited advertising and already have 100 people signed up, which was my target. There’s a need to keep people out there aware and educated.
If Portland is the 13th to do this, how have other cities fared, and how do those efforts compare to our approach?
Washington, DC has had benchmarking the longest, close to five years. They’re seeing buildings saving an average of three percent every year. So after three years that’s nine percent. One of the biggest pieces of the puzzle is existing commercial buildings. We have fairly limited authority to change code. We think this market transformation tool is our best bet. It’s probably on the lighter touch side.
San Francisco is a good model. You require benchmarking and disclosure. Making the info publicly available seems to be the key in achieving energy savings. A lot of people are worried about that disclosure piece. Once it gets out there, it will inform owners of what they need to do, and it will shine a light on those who have done a lot.
In San Francisco, they actually require an audit. You have to have somebody come in and look at lighting, HVAC, and settings. That’s the next step of going deeper. We’re informing the marektplace and can change behavior with that info. But San Francisco is saying, 'Why do you have that score? Why are you 65 percent more efficient and not 80 percent?’
We decided to just go with the public reporting to see what happens. The market transformation tool may work. If so, that’s great.
New York City has a still-further step. There you actually have to make upgrades. For a city like New York, they have tens of thousands of buildings. We have 5,000. But because we cut the line at 20,000 square feet and above, it’s only about 1,000 buildings. But New York is requiring actual upgrades if you’re not performing.
We‘re on the baby step side, but it’s an important step. It will save us enegy and save building owners money. I think there will be a lot of business opportunity for vendors who want to help these folks. We’ve got a lot of calls from business looking for that service and vendors looking to help owners do this.
Does Portland being 13th indicate that we’re not the sustainable-building pioneer we once were?
I hear that a lot, and I’ve heard that more recently the last couple years that we’ve lost our competitive edge. Maybe if you take an isolated policy or metric, we aren’t number one. But when I go to other cities, none are as comprehensively mindful. We do so much on stormwater in addition to building. Even our statewide energy code is better than 95 percent of the states out there. I think we’re struggling with affordability but in the past we’ve had extremely well performing projects also be affordable: Gray’s Landing, the Orchards at Orenco. I think we’re still cutting edge, and I’m glad other cities are taking this up. Other cities may be bigger and have more money, but I still put Portland up in that very top tier. I actually couldn’t name another city I feel like is greener than Portland in the US.
And don’t Oregon’s progressive anti-sprawl land use laws figure into that broader measurement of leading in sustainable efforts?
I think that’s a great point. I’m going to China next week, to a city of 15 million people. There are hundreds of cranes in the sky. They’ve already talked about our urban growth boundary and land use practices. Their blocks are about 10 times the size of ours. Try walking around a city like that. We’ve created all the conditions for high-performance, low-carbon neighborhoods. I think we’re still #1 in the US for that. But this is a pretty special place. It is those walkable neighborhoods where you can meet most of your needs by biking and walking and taking transit to your job or to your grandma’s house or doing your errands. I live near the MAX Orange line and it’s packed even though it’s barely been open. I can hardly get on and I never get a seat. To me that shows the demand for it.