Aspen building up to track in-town properties’ energy usage |

Aspen building up to track in-town properties’ energy usage

Aspen’s elected officials have taken the first steps to what will eventually lead to mandating building owners to track and reduce their energy use.

The city’s new initiative, called “Building IQ,” is an effort to get Aspen to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by next year, and 80% by 2050.

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.

“It’s somewhat low-hanging fruit but will have an enormous impact on greenhouse gases,” Councilwoman Ann Mullins said during a work session Tuesday.

Aspen City Council members unanimously agreed to move forward with developing an ordinance to be considered next year that would require building owners to “benchmark” their water and energy uses.

The city’s first greenhouse gas emissions analysis since the municipal government’s electric utility went 100% renewable in 2015 shows that Aspen has achieved a 21% reduction since 2004, according to Chris Menges, the city’s climate and sustainability analyst and planner.

But to make a bigger dent, the city is targeting the biggest energy suck — municipal and commercial buildings and multi-family properties that are over a certain square footage.

Participation begins with what is called “benchmarking,” which is already being done in 31 cities around the country, according to Laura Armstrong, the city’s Building IQ project manager.

It would require building owners to input natural gas, electric and water utility data into an EPA platform at no cost.

Closely tracking utility bills can reduce energy use by 2% or 3%, said Ashley Perl, the city’s climate action manager, in an interview earlier this week.

“Building owners will get value out of that exercise just when they see their utility bill,” she said, adding that many people consider utilities as a fixed cost. “But it doesn’t have to be.”

Through energy benchmarking and improvements, building owners would increase profitability, tenants would see lower utility bills and the city would make more data-driven decisions, according to city officials.

Armstrong said benchmarking will allow the city to understand where efficiencies lie.

“We are going to learn a lot about our buildings,” she said. “It’s a community-wide opportunity to invest in our building stock.”

After between two and four years of benchmarking, building owners would be required to take action to reduce their energy use, based on comparable properties.

Building improvements would be paired with incentives from the city.

The Building IQ ordinance would set an annual deadline for property owners to report their energy usage and make improvements.

The city already has reached out to almost two dozen owners of large buildings — 20,000 square feet or more — and will continue to do outreach with others who will be impacted.

A couple more work sessions are planned this fall and winter, before an ordinance is presented for consideration next spring.

Perl explained that in order to address the biggest energy consumption sector in the city’s footprint, baseline information has to be collected and benchmarking is the most effective way.

“We have such little data, so step one is figuring out what is going on out there,” she said.

The city will begin benchmarking all of its 18 properties first, before asking large commercial and multi-family building owners to do it.

There are 205 commercial buildings in the city that account for just over 2.6 million square feet. There are 625 multi-family buildings accounting for more than 5.5 million square feet.

Building IQ is part of the city’s Climate Action Plan, which has 46 action items to meet the greenhouse gas emissions goal.

To get to a 30% reduction rate by next year, Menges said three major efforts are underway, including Building IQ. The other two are increasing composting and electrification of the city’s vehicle fleet.

“We think we have a chance if all the partners continue the work they are doing and we ask them to step up more,” Menges said.

Aspen used to be a leader in climate action but has fallen behind as the quick fixes have been exhausted and communities around the globe have woken up to the notion of climate change.

“A lot of the low-hanging fruit is gone,” Perl said, adding Building IQ is a big step forward. “We are hoping to take a logical, step-by-step approach to climate action.”