Large buildings using less energy, water, report says

The Basilica of Saint Mary saw a 21 percent drop in energy use from 2014 to 2016, after factoring in adjustments for weather, according to a new city report.

Energy and water use in large buildings in Minneapolis trended downward after the City Council passed an ordinance requiring certain building owners to benchmark and submit consumption data, according to a new city report.

Adjusted for weather, consistently benchmarked large buildings used 1.7 percent less energy per square foot in 2016 compared to 2014, according to the report. The same buildings reduced their water consumption by 5.9 percent, the report said.

Total energy use decreased about 10.9 percent from 2016 to 2014 in consistently benchmarked buildings, according to the report, though that doesn’t account for fluctuations in weather. Decreased consumption from 2014 to 2016 led to cumulative utility bill savings of $21 million, according to the report.

“We feel very happy with the progress we’re seeing buildings make,” said Luke Hollenkamp, a city sustainability program coordinator. “Benchmarking data is a powerful tool that complements and enables other energy-efficiency work, which collectively is responsible for the substantial savings seen.”

The report came about five years after the City Council passed its benchmarking ordinance, which requires the owners of certain large buildings to report their buildings’ energy and water consumption data from the previous year. The idea of the ordinance is to make building owners more aware of their energy and water usage and to motivate them to invest in energy-efficiency improvements, the city wrote in an FAQ sheet.

Hollenkamp and Katie Jones Schmitt, the benchmarking program’s outreach and policy associate, added that the ordinance helps the city better target lower-performing buildings and market resources to sectors that use a lot of energy.

They noted that the city now has at least three years’ worth of data from most buildings required to benchmark. Jones Schmitt said they waited until that point before analyzing trends.

The ordinance requires operators of public buildings containing at least 25,000 gross square feet and private buildings containing at least 50,000 gross square feet submit data to the city annually. It excludes multifamily residential buildings and industrial buildings.

The ordinance gives building owners six months after a year’s end to report their data, so the city won’t have complete 2017 data until this summer.

The new report included 2016 data from 434 buildings, which combined to total 125 million square feet of floor space and 80 percent of the city’s commercial square footage. The buildings represented about 16 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, the report said.

The report said that consistently benchmarked public buildings collectively used 3 percent less energy use per square foot in 2016 than in 2012, after adjusting for weather. Those same buildings saw a reduction in water consumption of nearly 12 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the report.

Consistently benchmarked private properties used 3.4 percent less energy in 2016 than in 2014, the report said. Those buildings saw a reduction in water consumption of nearly 5 percent from 2015 to 2016.

The report noted that one of the most dramatic improvements has come from parking garages, which saw a 36 percent decrease in energy use from 2014 to 2016, after adjusting for weather.

The improvement was largely due to conversions to LED light bulbs and changes to lighting-controls equipment, the report said.

“Lighting is a unique area right now because of improvements in technology to LEDs, dramatic cost reductions and rebates that still exist from utilities,” Jones Schmitt said. “It makes a whole lot of sense to change out lighting to LED and upgrade lighting controls.”

Jones Schmitt said all participants in the city’s Building Energy Challenge have done lighting retrofits. The challenge, which is voluntary, asks large building owners and operators to actively take steps to reduce their buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent by 2020.

She and Hollenkamp also noted the city’s Green Business/Housing Cost Share Program, which offers owners of businesses and multifamily residential buildings funds for projects in the areas of energy efficiency, solar, pollution reduction and more.

Hollenkamp couldn’t say that the benchmarking ordinance is entirely responsible for decreased energy consumption but said it’s helped building owners think innovatively about energy efficiency. Jones Schmitt said she thinks it’s brought more attention to something that’s typically “business as usual” for building owners.

“It brings more visibility to something that they probably want to spend some time on anyway,” she said. “It just gives them one more tool to see.”

The report highlighted the work of The Basilica of Saint Mary, which saw a 21 percent drop in energy use from 2014 to 2016 after factoring in adjustments for weather. Dave Laurent, director of buildings and grounds at the Basilica, said his team has replaced the building’s original boilers with more efficient ones. They have also replaced many incandescent light bulbs with LED lights and replaced window air conditioning units with a central air system in the Basilica’s school and rectory buildings.

The team further is planning to replace 36 incandescent 1,000-watt light bulbs with LED bulbs, Laurent said, noting savings on maintenance fees for LED bulbs.

Visit to learn more about energy benchmarking in Minneapolis.