City of St. Louis Passes Building Performance Standard

Earlier this week, the City of St. Louis Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a Building Energy Performance Standard. USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter couldn’t be more proud of our City and the work of our staff and members in developing the policy, engaging stakeholders in the process, and getting this groundbreaking policy across the finish line on the very last day of the Board of Alderman’s 2019-2020 session at their first virtual meeting! This is a real accomplishment all around. St. Louis just the fourth jurisdiction – and the first in the Midwest – to pass such a policy. More importantly this policy means better, greener buildings; improved public health; increased environmental protection and climate change mitigation; and savings on energy bills for building owners and occupants.

In light of the current public health crisis, it is more important than ever to address air pollution and climate change – which are very closely connected. Most of the activities causing air pollution also contribute to climate change – like emissions from vehicles and power plants. Energy used in buildings is typically created through the combustion of fossil fuels at power plants and in buildings. In the United States, commercial and residential buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. In the City of St. Louis, the percentage is even higher at 80% (residential, commercial and industrial).

Even though addressing climate change and air pollution may seem like insurmountable problems, we know that green and energy efficient buildings are a SOLUTION. Energy efficiency is a win-win solution because it reduces harmful pollution and saves money at the same time. It also creates job opportunities related to energy efficiency improvements. Policies like the City’s benchmarking requirements and now a Building Energy Performance Standard make St. Louis’ existing buildings heroes in the fight against air pollution and climate change.

But now you’re probably wondering – what exactly is a building performance standard and what does it mean for St. Louis? Plus, what buildings will have to comply? And what will they have to do to comply? I’m going to address a few of these questions along with others that have come across my virtual desk.

What Buildings Have to Comply? All commercial, institutional, multi-family and municipal buildings that are 50,000 square feet and above must comply. These are the same buildings that have to comply with the City’s benchmarking requirements under the Building Energy Awareness Ordinance.

What is an energy performance standard?  A building energy performance standard creates a legal requirement for building owners to ensure their buildings meet a minimum level of performance (the standard). The City’s standard will be reviewed and updated every four years to consistently drive improvements in the building stock.

What IS the standard? The standard isn’t actually set yet. Over the next year, the City will work with stakholders to set standards for the different building types based on benchmarking data. The performance metric will be site Energy Use Intensity (EUI) and the standard will be set no lower than the 65th percentile of site EUI for similar buildings in St. Louis. The standards will be set by May 4, 2021.

By when will buildings have to meet the standard? Most buildings will have four years to meet the standard (May 4, 2025). Qualified affordable housing buildings and houses of worship will have six years to meet the standard (May 4, 2027).

How will this be measured and tracked? Building owners will use the free, online ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool to document compliance with the BEPS as part of the existing annual benchmarking reporting process. Data verification will be required when compliance is due.

How will buildings comply? To put it simply, buildings will comply by meeting the target set for their building type. Many buildings may already be meeting the target or close to meeting it. They may just need to implement a few operational changes or updates. Other buildings may be a little further from the target and will need to upgrade heating and cooling systems or improve the building envelope. Every building will meet the standard in a different way.

What kind of specific improvements will a building have to make to comply? As mentioned above, every building will meet the standard differently – depending on the building type, the baseline performance of the building, and what kind of improvements have already been made. Some buildings will make simple operational changes, others will need to invest more on building updates to comply.

What if a building can’t meet the standard? In addition to creating a building energy performance standard, the recently passed legislation also calls for the creation of a Building Energy Improvement Board to oversee the implementation of the standard. One of the Board’s role will be to administer a process for buildings unable to meet the standard so that building owners can propose an alternative compliance method for board approval.

How can a building owner get help? If a building owner is interested in making improvements, the City has collected resources here. Ameren Missouri and Spire Energy offer incentives / rebates for energy efficiency improvements. And Set the PACE St. Louis offers Property Assessed Clean Energy financing for energy efficiency improvements. USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter continues to offer assistance with benchmarking and also connects building owners with energy solutions through this Energy Efficiency Checklist, GPRO Operations & Maintenance training and other educational programming. USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter, the City of St. Louis and other partners are currently working to create an Energy Resource Hub that can assist building owners in their efforts.

How can I be considered for the Building Energy Improvement Board? The legislation calls for the creation of a nine-person Building Energy Improvement Board with representation from the building industry, utilities, and building owners. The City will be soliciting nominations or you can submit your nomination here.

There’s still a lot of work to do in implementing this new policy, but we are excited about moving forward. I expect there will also be many more questions as well, so stay tuned for a more formal FAQ.

There are many people to thank for this green building win – including our partners in the City’s Building Division and Sustainability Office, the board bill sponsor Alderwoman Heather Navarro, national partners through the American Cities Climate Challenge (Bloomberg Philanthropies, Natural Resources Defense Council, Institute for Market Transformation, and the Energy Foundation), and the many stakeholders who participated in the process. The list is long, but you can check out a list of Building Energy Performance Standards Supporters here.

And be sure to read other articles about the City’s new standard from Alderwoman Heather Navarro, IMT, and NRDC.

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