Articles, Blog

Commercial Building Efficiency in Minneapolis

December 2, 2019


My name is Doug Pierce. I’m a LEED fellow.
I’ve been with Perkins and Will for 21 years and I’ve been practicing
architecture for over 30. And I actually studied sustainable design when I was at
college, even before the UN had minted the word sustainability and exactly what
it was we were studying it if we don’t reduce our carbon footprint and we let
climate change just run… the impacts will get beyond our capacity to adapt.
We won’t be able to adapt. So energy efficiency and fossil fuel reductions
are foundational to not just sustainability but resilience as well. We
have to start dealing with the weather extremes and here in Minnesota,
probably our biggest threat is extreme rain. Sandy had gone down, we had this
big rain event in Duluth, and for me it was like alright it’s here. Climate
change is not something… it’s clearly not something that we can talk about as
being impactful in the future, it’s happening very clearly now and it’s
dangerous. As designers and architects and planners we have a responsibility to
start dealing with it. So when we look at our climate and our energy goals, a
substantial amount of our energy and a substantial amount of our
climate impact is the result of energy we use in buildings. Approximately 71
percent of the greenhouse gases that the city as a whole
emits come from electricity and natural gas and the vast, vast majority of that
electricity and natural gas is going directly towards buildings. There’s just
one energy code for the entire state. Currently state law prohibits
municipalities such as Minneapolis from setting a higher standard. These caps are
driven by status quo organizations that are gonna say, “oh you want to do this? No you can’t.” But I do know that as a city we definitely… we would like the
authority to set more stringent energy efficiency standards because we also think it
saves money for our residents and our businesses. So from that standpoint you
get… you either have to do incentives which costs money, or you do things like
Minneapolis did, which they require, as you know, buildings to report their energy
use. So for instance we could, looking at the data that’s reported, identify a pool
of buildings that both use a lot of energy and also use energy inefficiently.
And those are the buildings where you can get the most bang for your buck in
terms of outreach. So if you identify that pool of buildings and then you work
with the utilities, to bring the utilities into the room, into a
conversation with those building owners… and some of them haven’t had those
conversations… and then the city’s also there asking what can we as a
city do to help out, perhaps some ideas will come out, perhaps there’s additional resources those buildings aren’t currently using. One of the biggest
sources of money to reduce the overall costs of a project is from utility
conservation programs, and those can be hard to navigate. SB 2030 is Minnesota’s
version of the 2030 challenge, by the way. Participation B3 and then meeting the SB
2030 energy efficiency standards is required for a certain subset of
buildings in the state. To achieve it your building needed to reduce its
fossil fuel use by 50% and then every five years it goes up 10%, until its carbon neutral. And we have a law here in Minnesota that all state
funded projects are required to meet it. But when you look around here, the vast
majority of the buildings you can see out of the window haven’t received any type
of state financial assistance, so they’re not required to participate in B3
program. I think that there’s a few things that we as a city could do and many of these
are identified in our climate action plan – one potential is to – again we have
this LEED building policy for any city-owned building… we could amend that policy so that there is more… that it’s more stringent. And then also take the SB 2030 criteria – this would be a really
heavy lift – but can you imagine having every local government required to meet
that with their buildings? County governments, county buildings,
municipal buildings, all schools, everything. And then you know what might
be feasible would be to offer free energy audits to everyone. So we think
that we need to take a more active role in reaching out to these high users but that requires more staff. So the elected officials ultimately have
the say in what those programs are and we as staff, you know, use those
resources to provide as much programming and assistance as we can. Maybe this is
what I’ll leave you with, is that we could completely decarbonize our electric
system, we could turn all of our on road vehicles, all of our transportation to
electricity and make them all come from renewable resources, but if we are still
left with the same amount of natural gas we use, we won’t hit our 80 percent reduction. Standards are so mundane and they’re so like, down-to-earth. They are powerful. If you put them
together, you can change the world with standards

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