Madison officials have proposed an ordinance for large-scale commercial buildings to benchmark their energy use and perform check-ups every four years to promote renewable energy use and lower the city’s carbon emissions to a net zero over the next few decades.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and several other leaders introduced the legislation at a Common Council meeting on Jan. 3, city records showed. Dubbed the “Building Energy Savings Program,” the ordinance passed the Common Council and will go before the Sustainable Madison Committee on Monday.
Under the proposal, commercial buildings 25,000 square feet and larger would need to benchmark energy use every year through ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, a free online tool developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, city officials said in a statement. “Benchmarking” requires owners to assess and analyze their building’s annual energy use and gives them a chance to find opportunities to save energy and money.
Benchmarking doesn’t require a building to meet a prescribed level of energy use, a Madison FAQ page showed. Buildings that benchmark often reduce energy usage by 8-10% over time, officials added.
“Benchmarking provides information to building owners and managers about how their building’s energy use compares to other similar buildings, how it changes over time, and ways to save energy,” officials said.
If a commercial building is 50,000 square feet and larger, the owner would need to perform a building tune-up every four years, city officials said. Tune-ups require a professional to assess a building’s energy systems, controls and maintenance.
“On average, tune-ups reduce energy use by 12% and pay back in 2-3 years,” city officials said. “Tune-ups aim to make sure a building is running at its best without wasting energy. They often uncover hidden issues and correct them.”
Buildings that would fall under the requirement include all commercial, nonresidential buildings with at least 25,000 square feet of space, including banks, data centers, convention centers, movie theaters, gyms, supermarkets and restaurants. Smaller buildings, residential portions of larger buildings and industrial and manufacturing buildings wouldn’t be affected.
The program will offer free training and a help desk to make sure owners and managers can easily benchmark and tune up their buildings, city records showed. The city will also give owners customized reports to sum up whole-building energy use, how it changes over time and how it compares to other Madison buildings.
Madison officials introduced the proposal as part of a plan to reach 100% renewable energy and net-zero carbon emissions for city operations by 2030 and across the community by 2050, officials said. The city cited experts’ consensus the world must cut carbon pollution in half by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and Rhodes-Conway called the effort to address climate action an “all hands on deck situation.”
“We have reached an ‘all hands on deck’ moment for climate action,” she said in a statement, “and the building sector is a key part of the solution. Luckily, there are proven, cost-saving strategies like those in the Building Energy Savings program that can reduce carbon pollution, save business owners money on energy bills, and build a well-paid, green workforce all at once.”
Because the city wants to reach as many buildings as possible, the program doesn’t have a voluntary option as officials cited a study that found voluntary programs only reached 2-3% of buildings each year. Owners can ask for a tune-up deadline extension if they have a recent change in ownership, a vacancy rate of 50% or more, major renovations or financial hardship like bankruptcy and foreclosure.
“This program puts better information in the hands of building owners and operators and helps identify and fix issues that waste energy,” District 13 Alderman Tag Evers said in a statement. “Benchmarking and tune-ups put our building sector on a path toward efficiency and move Madison closer to reaching our climate and energy goals.”