Orlando Takes Major Step on Building Efficiency

Orlando’s leadership on climate and clean energy is shining especially bright with the passage of new legislation that will tackle one of the city’s, and our nation’s, largest sources of carbon pollution—buildings. 

Orlando’s city council voted unanimously this week in favor of a local ordinance, called the Building Energy and Water Efficiency Strategy (BEWES), which will require the city’s largest buildings over 50,000 square feet to annually benchmark and report their energy and water use.  The policy also requires energy audits for buildings that perform below the national average in terms of their energy use, which will help to identify low-cost improvements that will save owners and tenants on their utilities bills. Over the next 15 years, the policy is projected to save an estimated $208 million in energy costs, drive the creation of more than 500 local high-wage jobs, conserve 900 million gallons of fresh water, and avoid an estimated 1.1 million metric tons of carbon pollution. Participating private-sector buildings will comply beginning in May 2018.

With the passage of this policy, Orlando becomes the first city in Florida with this kind of policy and joins the ranks of leading U.S. cities and states working to cut energy use from the buildings sector, which accounts for more than 40 percent of total energy consumption and $430 billion in annual energy bills nationwide.  In Orlando, the buildings sector accounts for more than 72 percent of the city’s energy use and carbon emissions making the passage of this policy all the more important.

Nearly three years ago, Mayor Buddy Dyer announced that the City would join the City Energy Project, a joint initiative of NRDC and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) to create healthier, more prosperous American cities by improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings, to tackle this important sector. Since then, NRDC and IMT have been working closely with Orlando to create tailored energy efficiency strategies that resonate with the local community while also leading by example.

The city council’s unanimous support was a testament not only to the broad and diverse coalition that supported the policy for its economic, environmental, and public health benefits, but also to the city’s leadership in making energy improvements to its own municipal facilities.  The City engaged numerous stakeholders from building owners to energy service providers through in-person meetings, workshops, community summits, and roundtables. Importantly, the City also put its own skin in the game.  As of the summer of 2015, the City made an $18 million investment to improve the energy efficiency of public buildings and conducted audits and retrofits in more than 55 municipal buildings which will save the City up to $2.5 million per year in energy costs and help finance a new police headquarters. 

Orlando’s victory reminds us of the leadership that cities across the country are showing in tackling our energy and climate challenges, while making their cities more prosperous, sustainable, and healthy places to live.  Working in partnership with building owners and tenants, Orlando’s growing clean energy industry, and other stakeholders, this policy will have a significant impact for years to come.

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