The council votes 6-3 to pass the ‘benchmarking’ measure, designed to collect baseline data that would be used to gauge trends and the effectiveness of efficiency upgrades.
by Randy Billings, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
The Portland City Council voted 6-3 to become the first community in Maine to require large businesses and residential buildings to report their energy usage to the city.
The vote comes after South Portland rejected a similar measure, citing privacy concerns.
City Councilor Jon Hinck, who chairs the Energy and Sustainability Committee, said the proposal is consistent with previous environmental initiatives the city has signed onto, some of which date to 2005.
“It’s 2016 – we haven’t made that much progress,” Hinck said.
Councilors Nicholas Mavodones, David Brenerman and Edward Suslovic voted against the measure. They supported the goal of tracking energy usage for buildings, but they were concerned that the city had not done enough outreach to affected property owners.
“This is not ready for prime time tonight,” Suslovic said.
The goal of the program is to collect baseline data about energy usage in large buildings, whether it’s electricity, natural gas, steam, water or heating oil. That data would be used to gauge trends in energy use and to measure the effectiveness of efficiency upgrades.
Utility benchmarking – a technical term for tallying and comparing similar things – is a process promoted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through its voluntary Energy Star efficiency program.
Cities track the utility performances of larger commercial and residential properties through the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager, a website tool that allows users to compare energy use, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of similar buildings nationwide.
At least 20 cities around the country – including San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston – have some sort of benchmarking requirement.
Portland’s ordinance is modeled after one passed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that Hinck said had a 95 percent voluntary compliance rate. It would apply to most public buildings and privately owned buildings larger than 20,000 square feet of gross floor area, or with more than 50 residential units.
It also would require the city to measure and report the energy and water consumption of all municipal buildings with more than 5,000 square feet.
Troy Moon, the city’s sustainability coordinator, said that roughly 225 commercial buildings, 40 or so municipal buildings and 19 apartment complexes could be affected.
The ordinance was supported by the Sierra Club of Maine but opposed by several businesses owners, who were worried that the program would be a costly administrative burden. They also wanted the city to wait until a voluntary benchmarking initiative, known as the 2030 District, finished working through some technical issues associated with collecting data.
“Our concern frankly is we don’t really know what to do with the information, and the information is not easily attainable at the present time,” said Vincent Veroneau, president of J.B. Brown & Sons, a Portland-based real estate management and development company.
To allay those concerns, Hinck offered an amendment, giving affected property owners at least 2½ years before having to comply. That window should give businesses enough time to work with utility companies to get information in a way that is easy to report to the city, while also protecting proprietary information.
While some councilors were concerned that all of the affected property owners were not consulted, Mayor Ethan Strimling and other supporters noted that everyone in the city is affected by climate change.
“We just can no longer wait,” Strimling said. “We must take bold action. We must take this step forward.”