Committee holds benchmarking ordinance

Nora Shelly, Assistant City Editor

Aldermen held a benchmarking ordinance in the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting Monday night after questioning the ordinance’s usefulness, processes and possible penalties.

The ordinance would require building owners to track and report energy and water usage in an effort to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Benchmarking tracks the emissions of a building over time and compares it to similar buildings.

“I agree with the end results of this, to reduce the carbon footprint; that’s what we want to work towards,” said Ald. Ann Rainey (8th). “However … if you’re running a building that is of the size of the buildings we’re interested in … you are watching those numbers like a hawk … If you’re not, you’re obviously very rich or really stupid.”

The ordinance, which would apply to buildings of 20,000 square feet or more, as well as city-owned buildings of 10,000 square feet or more, requires building owners to annually report their energy and water usage for the year to the city using Portfolio Manager, an online tool available for free through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program.

Kumar Jensen, an environmental project coordinator for the city, told The Daily the Utilities Commission and city staff drafted the ordinance in light of the Evanston Livability Plan, the city’s second climate action plan which passed in 2014.

“The focus is on supporting … property managers and owners,” Jensen said. “The hope is that in going through the process, those buildings will reduce their emissions.”

Jensen said as of November of last year, 19 municipalities had similar ordinances, and benchmarking was a way for the city to address emissions of already-existing buildings, rather than focusing on constructing energy efficient buildings.

According to council documents, EPA studies of Portfolio Manager suggest benchmarking practice leads to an average seven percent decrease of energy usage for a building.

Jensen said the proposed ordinance was closely modeled after the benchmarking requirements for the buildings in Chicago, in part so that building owners with property in both Chicago and Evanston would have an easier time reporting data to the city. Additionally, of the buildings the city expects to be covered by the ordinance if it is passed, about a fifth are already using the online benchmarking tool, Jensen said.

According to the proposed ordinance, building owners who fail to report their energy usage may be fined $50 for every offense. Several aldermen at Monday’s committee meeting took issue with this penalty.

“The point is that we want to drop energy usage if we can … but you don’t want to make so onerous that it comes across as the city being too heavy-handed,” Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) asked Jensen to conduct more outreach in the business community in reviewing the ordinance. Aldermen also asked for staff to review the ordinance and provide clarification on several points, including the usefulness of the ordinance and the fine structure for building managers or owners who failed to comply with the ordinance.

“Let’s understand what we’re doing first before we go making up another ordinance,” Braithwaite said. “My concern is the backlash we’re going to receive from our business community.”

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