Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Large Milwaukee Buildings Will Be Required To Conduct Energy Benchmarks

Simply tracking the data expected to trigger process that cuts energy use by 2.4% per year.

By - Jun 25th, 2024 05:46 pm
The Milwaukee Public Library's Central Library, 814 W. Wisconsin Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee Public Library’s Central Library, 814 W. Wisconsin Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A proposal advancing through Milwaukee City Hall hopes to substantially reduce building energy use by requiring owners of large buildings, including the city itself, to compare energy use to peer buildings.

If the effort succeeds, it could make a notable dent in Milwaukee’s emissions. According to an Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO) presentation, a review of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the city found that 76% of GHG emissions originate from buildings. Approximately a quarter of all GHG emissions come from commercial buildings.

The proposed ordinance, cited as a “big idea” project in the 2023 Climate and Equity Plan, would require all owners of commercial and residential buildings over 50,000 square feet in size to annually upload their energy usage data to an Energy Star portfolio manager and share it with ECO.

Based on an ECO presentation, the proposal would require less than 15% of all buildings in the city to be benchmarked, but it would encompass approximately 65% of the city’s total built space.

“Studies show that buildings that do benchmark their energy use use about 2.4% less energy per year, or 7.2% over three years,” said Pamela Ritger de la Rosa, ECO’s environmental sustainability program manager, to the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee Tuesday morning. “That may seem like a small number, but if you’re talking about a 500,000-square-foot building, that can be like $120,000 in savings over time.” She said some municipalities with similar ordinances have seen even greater reductions.

Government buildings in excess of 10,000 square feet owned by the city or Milwaukee Public Schools would also be required to participate. “That’s really to show government leading by example,” said Ritger de la Rosa. Milwaukee County already benchmarks its building energy use she said, but the city cannot legally require the county to do it.

The first deadline for compliance is June 30, 2025, for government and commercial buildings. Multi-family residential buildings would need to comply by June 30, 2026, because their data is expected to be more complicated to aggregate initially. “We are passing this now to give people plenty of heads up that this is coming,” said ECO director Erick Shambarger.

Failure to upload the data would allow ECO to levy a fine of $1,000 for every 90 days of non-compliance. Intentional data falsification could trigger a $2,000 fine. A handful of exemptions are available, including those buildings that are at least 50% vacant.

The process is expected to take four to 10 hours per building in the first year and then fall in future years. “I think 10 is a little bit high,” said Ritger de la Rosa of the estimates. ECO is working with We Energies to adopt “ESPM Web Services,” which would provide for direct uploading to the Energy Star system. She said ECO is also working with We Energies to provide whole-building aggregated data for situations where tenants have individual utility bills.

There are already incentives for participating. Focus on Energy provides $200 per month to participating property owners for up to six months to upload the data and offers a host of other energy efficiency incentives. “We want as many buildings in Milwaukee to take advantage of that as possible and we’re also putting together additional programs to help facilitate building owners to take advantage of those incentives, make those improvements to their buildings and save money on those bills,” she said.

Ritger de la Rosa said outreach meetings have been held with some of the city’s largest property owners, including the Mandel Group and Berrada Properties, as well as the Building Owners and Managers Association and NAIOP Wisconsin. The ordinance was crafted with the support of the Center for Energy and Environment, which has supported other cities in adopting benchmarking ordinances. “We haven’t had a ton of pushback, and I think that might be because a lot of building owners are already doing this,” she said. “It may be new to Milwaukee, but it’s becoming a more popular ordinance across the country.”

“That’s fantastic outreach. That’s a model of what outreach should be,” said Ald. Scott Spiker.

The owners of 20% of the buildings to which the ordinance would apply are believed to already be using the free Energy Star portfolio manager system. Ritger de la Rosa said that figure could be low because property owners could also be using competing systems. Buildings that are already tracked include the Central Library, which was lauded by the Obama administration for reducing its energy use.

Chicago, Minneapolis and Madison already have benchmarking ordinances. Madison’s was adopted in early 2023.

A federal grant is to be used to fund an ECO team member or consultant to staff a help desk and resource center. A $117,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy would fund the first year. “We have also applied for additional grants, which we haven’t heard the results of yet, that would give us funding to run the resource center for five years,” said Shambarger. He said federal tax credits are also available for property owners. “This whole ordinance will help people get thinking about energy in a way that many don’t. Many people just pay their bill and that’s it, they don’t think about that they could actually reduce it.”

Ritger da la Rosa said there is an additional positive side effect of uploading energy bills: it can help spot errors in utility bills “which do happen.”

A number of individuals affiliated with the development of the climate plan testified in support, including Citizen Action of Wisconsin climate coordinator Kat Klawes, who said it was a matter of equity that would save money and eliminate waste, and Linda Frank. No one spoke in opposition.

The proposal is sponsored by six Common Council members, including committee chair Jonathan Brostoff, JoCasta Zamarripa, Spiker, Russell W. Stamper, II, Robert Bauman and DiAndre Jackson.

The full council is to consider the ordinance at its July 2 meeting.

The City of Milwaukee has a couple other irons in the fire on greening its own buildings. Last fall, the Common Council approved ECO seeking a performance-based contractor to cut energy use by 20% at 106 city-owned buildings. This spring, the council approved a plan to develop two new solar arrays with We Energies to allow the city to meet a 25 by 25 goal to have 25% of its energy come from renewable sources by 2025.

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Related Legislation: File 240297

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