Chicago Gets Serious About Curbing Energy Consumption

on September 25, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Chicago Prepares For 2016 Olympics Decision

The City of Chicago passed an ordinance September 11 requiring buildings with more than 50,000 square feet to report their energy use to a benchmarking tool and eventually to the public.

The law, passed in a 32-to-17 vote, is part of the city’s overall efforts to reduce energy use in half of Chicago’s buildings 30 percent by 2020. It will impact about 3,500 commercial, residential and municipal buildings around the city.

The benchmarking tool it’s planning to use, the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, is run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Chicago building owners will be required to submit information on their energy use, building size, occupancy level and building use into a software program that the Chicago Tribune compares to Turbo Tax. However, the program also has an additional 150 metrics to help building owners manage energy consumption and see where they can cut back.

Once the EPA has gathered the information it will compare it to the energy efficiency in similar buildings and determine an ENERGY STAR score. Scores range from 1 to 100, with 100 being the best.

About 35,000 companies around the country use the tool and the EPA says those building have seen a 7 percent decrease in energy consumption.

Chicago will be the eighth city to mandate energy benchmarking behind New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, Austin, Seattle and San Francisco. Additionally, two states, California and Washington, require energy benchmarking.

The ordinance will not be in affect until 2014, and even then only buildings over 250,000 square feet will be required to report data. Buildings between 50,000 and 250,000 square feet must start reporting energy consumption in 2015. Residential buildings get even more leeway. The ordinance gives these buildings until 2016.  The city plans to give each building owner the opportunity to report its data to the EPA and make any energy-efficient changes for a year before it release the ENERGY STAR scores to the public.

Proponents of the ordinance believe it can spur energy reductions in these buildings. Though these 50,000 square foot buildings represent only 1 percent of the buildings they make up 22 percent of its building energy consumption.  According to a city press release, if all of these buildings cut energy costs by 5 percent it would result in $250 million in savings collectively and eliminate enough greenhouse gas emissions to equate to taking 50,000 cars off the road.

Many believe public knowledge is the best part of the law. After all, people check the mileage before purchasing a vehicle, or the price of groceries. Why shouldn’t the people of Chicago know they ENERGY STAR score of a building before living or running a business in it?

One cost effective option that could appease both the public and Chicago buildings owners is the purchase of renewable energy credits.  Since Illinois has a deregulated energy market, building owners can select an alternative energy supplier that offers green energy to help offset its carbon footprint and boost its ENERGY STAR score.

Despite the environmental benefits, there have been many that oppose the city’s benchmarking mandate. Those against the ordinance have called it public shaming.  They believe building that don’t meet high energy-efficiency standards will be looked down upon in the real estate market that’s just now starting to recover from the 2008 collapse.  It may make companies spend money investing in energy efficiency just to compete, even though the ordinance doesn’t make upgrades a requirement.

Brittany Williams is a Copywriter for In her role, she covers controversial topics, explores renewable energy options and shares her knowledge to help others minimize their electricity bills, and in turn their carbon footprints.