Knowledge is power...and money

Would you buy a car without knowing how many miles per gallon it gets?  What about a building? Would you buy or lease a building without knowing what your energy costs would be?

Given that a building’s lifetime operating costs are on average five times higher than its initial cost, knowing its energy use is critical to making an informed purchasing decision. Yet in this age of information, energy use data is not readily accessible.

Portland is poised to join the growing movement to make energy use information visible and actionable in the marketplace, which in turn will catalyze building energy efficiency. That matters because buildings are Portland’s largest source of carbon emissions.

The City’s proposed Energy Performance Reporting Policy would daylight energy use data for commercial buildings, with the goal of motivating investment in energy efficiency in Portland’s building stock. This policy presents a significant opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, help tenants and building owners save money, and create jobs in the clean energy sector.

Without information about building energy use, prospective renters and purchasers cannot comparison shop when buying or leasing property. Building owners and managers also don’t know how their buildings perform compared to similar buildings, and where opportunities exist to improve performance. Since buildings account for 41 percent of energy use, $450 billion in energy costs, and 38 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S., this lack of transparency costs Americans a lot.

The good news is that there is a growing movement across the nation to make energy use more transparent. Two states (California and Washington), 11 cities, and one county have already implemented programs to measure and disclosure building energy use, and are realizing the benefits. Portland is on the verge of joining this movement.

On April 15, Portland City Council held a hearing to consider a policy that would require buildings over 20,000 square feet to track and report energy performance. All public testimony supported the policy (including a video message from the Mayor of Philadelphia)—a testament to the hard work by City staff to engage community stakeholders in crafting the policy.

Portland has over 5,000 commercial buildings, and owners and tenants spend more than $335 million in energy costs for these buildings every year. Only 80 buildings are ENERGY STAR-certified, putting Portland 24th in a national ranking, behind Detroit. Buildings that have tracked their energy use through ENERGY STAR’S Portfolio Manager have saved an average of 2.4% of energy use annually. Higher performing buildings also have lower vacancy rates, and increased rental and resale prices. Energy disclosure is a huge opportunity for savings for Portland businesses.

By making energy use more transparent, this policy will empower owners, managers, and tenants to make informed decisions and take action to reduce waste and costs. It will also enhance marketing of utility incentive programs, allow energy service companies to identify high-value potential customers, and facilitate market recognition of high performing buildings and their owners. Finally, it will support the growth of the clean energy sector in Portland by increasing demand for energy efficiency services.

Knowledge is power, and this policy will empower Portland to continue to drive down carbon emissions while reaping the significant economic benefits. 

Author Bio

Jenna is a former staff member at Climate Solutions, where she provided the Strategic Innovation team with research on and analysis of the pathways to a low carbon future. She also coordinated Climate Solutions' Knowledge Management.

Jenna’s career spans 18 years in the environmental field, with extensive experience leading collaborative efforts, as well as creating and advocating for public policy. She hails from California and received her BA in Environmental Sciences with an emphasis on Natural Resources Management from UC Santa Barbara in 1994. After working as a land use policy planner for Santa Barbara County and as the Community Affairs Director for the Environmental Defense Center in CA, Jenna headed north to the University of Oregon, where she attained an MS in Environmental Studies & Graduate Certificate in Not-for-Profit Management in 2006. After graduate school, she directed stewardship and outreach activities for an Oregon watershed council, and worked to advance sustainable building practices for the City of Eugene, where she developed and managed the City's Green Building Incentive Program.

When not working, she likes to play outside, listen to live music, and explore new places.

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