Mayors from 10 US cities on November 15 announced that they are joining 10 previously named cities in the City Energy Project (CEP), an effort to address energy use and climate pollution caused by buildings.
"By the year 2030, the 20 participating cities have the power to achieve significant collective impact by taking action at the local level, with the potential to save more than $1.5 billion annually in energy bills and reduce carbon pollution by more than 9.6 million metric tons, equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road for a year," said the announcement from the CEP, a joint project of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT).
Funded by a partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Kresge Foundation, the project launched in January 2014 with 10 cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Salt Lake City. In December 2015, the project’s funders announced an additional $10.5 million investment to expand the project’s reach in the U.S. to the new cities: Des Moines, Iowa; Fort Collins, Colorado; Miami-Dade County; New Orleans; Pittsburgh; Providence, Rhode Island; Reno, Nevada; San Jose, California; St. Louis, Missouri; and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Five of the 20 cities were among the Top 10 Metros in Site Selection's annual Sustainability Rankings, published in July 2016: Boston (No. 1), Chicago (5th), Philadelphia (7th), Pittsburgh (8th) and Houston (9th).
Among the new cities' programs is Pittsburgh's pledge to reduce energy use, water consumption, and transportation emissions by 50 percent by 2030. Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto cited the city's recently passed building benchmarking ordinance as one example of the collaboration necessary to achieve those targets. Fort Collins, aims to reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
According to the City Energy Project, if US buildings were considered a nation, they would rank third in global energy consumption, using more primary energy than all major energy consuming nations except the US and China.
“This is one of those rare projects whose demonstrable benefits are commensurate with its promise,” said Rip Rapson, president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation. “Every unit of energy that isn’t consumed not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but also bends down the energy cost curve. By expanding the project to 20 cities, we can demonstrate with even greater force how aggressive energy efficiency measures can make a difference on both fronts.”
“Improving the energy efficiency of buildings not only helps residents, owners, tenants, businesses, cities, and utilities save money, it also increases property value, creates jobs, reduces harmful pollution, and creates healthier spaces,” said Cliff Majersik, executive director of IMT.
To date, six CEP cities have enacted energy efficiency policies covering almost 12,000 buildings with more than 2.3 billion sq. ft. of space, said the CEP announcement. "More than 1,600 buildings representing over 270 million square feet of space have participated in City Energy Project-supported challenge programs encouraging energy efficiency improvements. And many of the pioneering 10 cities are exploring new financing models that will make over $1 billion available to finance energy efficiency improvements."
Big City Beginnings
Atlanta and Chicago offer examples of progress, including what some may view as onerous regulation.
“The City of Atlanta’s partnership with the City Energy Project has bolstered our position as a national leader in sustainability and energy efficiency,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. “Our work with the City Energy Project since 2014 has allowed us to expand our commitment to reducing energy and water use citywide and continue to build upon our success in reducing energy and water use not just in the City’s central business corridors through initiatives such as the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge, but across our region as a whole.”
According to the city's annual report, in 2015, Atlanta successfully achieved a 22-percent water savings, exceeding its 20-percent water savings goal for the program five years early; reached a total of over 100 million sq. ft. of building space committed to the challenge; and continued toward its 20 percent energy savings goal, growing its total energy savings to 15.9 percent.
The City of Chicago last December released the results of its second annual assessment of energy use in large commercial, institutional, and residential buildings throughout the city. Findings revealed that improving energy efficiency in these buildings could reduce energy use up to 24 percent, save up to $184 million in energy costs, create as many as 2,000 jobs, and cut carbon pollution equivalent to removing 306,000 cars from the road.
“By increasing awareness and transparency on building energy use, Chicago is accelerating the market for energy efficiency and uncovering opportunities to save money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Karen Weigert, then the City of Chicago’s chief sustainability officer, who has since moved on to become a senior fellow for global cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
In conjunction with its 2015 Chicago Energy Benchmarking Report and infographic, the City published information on approximately 250 of the its largest buildings on the Chicago Data Portal. The City Energy Project also partnered with Chicago to launch a new website where users can interact with this building energy performance data.
Chicago’s 2015 report included data collected through its Building Energy Use Benchmarking Ordinance, which requires owners of buildings larger than 50,000 sq. ft. to collect and share energy-use data with the city annually and verify the data every three years. Residential buildings larger than 250,000 sq. ft., along with commercial and institutional buildings larger than 50,000 sq. ft., were required to report 2014 data. The 2015 report examined aggregated 2014 data from more than 1,800 buildings that covered more than 600 million sq. ft. and represented approximately 20 percent of citywide energy use. Overall, Chicago buildings reported a median ENERGY STAR score of 58 out of 100, which was 16 percent higher than the national median of 50.
This year in Chicago, all commercial, institutional, and residential properties larger than 50,000 sq. ft. were required to report energy use data by June 1, and residential buildings totaling 50,000 to 250,000 sq. ft. were required to verify reported information.