Aspen turning up heat on energy use reduction in commercial, residential buildings
Buildings account for more than half of greenhouse gas emissions in Aspen and elected officials are taking climate action through local ordinance
Aspen City Council took steps Monday to mandate owners of commercial buildings and multi-family dwellings to track and reduce their energy use.
It’s called Building IQ, an initiative that was introduced in 2018. Last year, the benchmarking program became voluntary for property owners.
Yet despite extensive outreach, no property owners have agreed to participate in the program, according to Tessa Schreiner, the city’s sustainability programs administrator.
“Under that voluntary program, no commercial buildings took us up on that,” she said during council’s work session. “What we’re proposing today is that this would become mandatory in order to really drive building owners to participate.”
Council is expected to pass an ordinance early next year that includes “benchmarking,” which requires building owners to input natural gas, electric and water utility data into an EPA platform at no cost.
Then, based on data sets and uses of particular buildings and types, energy and water usage reductions will be required.
Council agreed Monday during its work session to go with a slower phasing option, which starts with commercial buildings more than 20,000 square feet by December 2022 and multi-family dwellings phased in by 2024.
Under that option, all properties would be in compliance by 2025.
The effort is part of a two-year carbon reduction effort, which council agreed to earlier this year and directed staff to reduce Aspen’s greenhouse gas emissions by taking meaningful action and providing leadership in reducing the community’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Commercial and residential buildings in Aspen account for 58% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is why the city is focusing on them as a way to significantly reduce its carbon footprint.
Councilman John Doyle said he would like the city to move forward with the Building IQ program as fast as it can.
“I think the sooner we can address the problem the better off we all are going to be,” he said, adding he is not opposed to hiring more staff to administer the program. “Our planet is in crisis right now and we have not a lot of time left and a one-year lapse is a big amount of time.”
The Building IQ ordinance would set an annual deadline for property owners to report their energy usage and make improvements.
“You cannot manage what you do not measure,” Schreiner said. “There’s a lot of opportunities for reduction.”
After benchmarking, building owners would be required to take action to reduce their energy use, based on comparable properties.
Building improvements could be paired with incentives from the city.
Through energy benchmarking and improvements, building owners would increase profitability, tenants would see lower utility bills and the municipal government would make more data-driven decisions, according to city officials.
In late 2018, staff began developing Building IQ by convening a design team to research and develop recommendations for how the city could implement a program.
The team hired consultants and conducted extensive engagement in the community that included dozens of one-on-one and group meetings, hundreds of emails and an online engagement portal, according to Schreiner.
What they heard from many property owners was that they did not want information about their buildings made public in a database, as many other cities do in their similar programs.
Council members kicked the can on making that decision Monday night, with most of them saying they preferred an aggregate list of unidentified properties but understood that it could have a positive affect as well if people were recognized for making improvements.
“I think the more information we can have the better,” Doyle said. “We’re all in this together.”
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