Atlanta Becomes First City in Southeast to Pass a Benchmarking and Audit Policy for Large Commercial Buildings

Earth Day came early in Atlanta. The city council has unanimously passed a comprehensive energy and water efficiency policy that will reduce energy use in large buildings, drive down carbon emissions, and create more transparency in the real estate market. The ordinance contains required annual benchmarking and transparency, as well as required audits every ten years and voluntary retrocomissioning. Using these tools, the City of Atlanta anticipates that the ordinance will lead to a 20 percent reduction in Atlanta City Hall.jpgcommercial energy use by 2030, spur the creation of more than a thousand jobs annually in the first few years, and reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030 (from 2013 levels).

Buildings currently account for 66 percent of Atlanta's total energy use. The Atlanta policy addresses energy and water use in private and city-owned buildings over 25,000 square feet. In total, 2,350 buildings are covered, which represents 88 percent of the city's commercial sector. Nationally, 30 percent of energy use in large buildings is actually wasted, and commercial and industrial buildings spend an annual average of $400 billion on energy costs. This means that the Atlanta policy could save millions of dollars for Atlanta building owners that can be redirected to meaningful local investments in the community.

Logistically, participating buildings will be phased into benchmarking compliance. Municipal buildings over 10,000 square feet and non-city covered buildings over 50,000 square feet will be required to submit their 2014 benchmarking data through ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager this year. While the 2014 municipal building performance data will be shared with the public, the 2014 data from the non-city buildings will not. This allows private building owners the opportunity to examine their first-year performance and make improvements if they choose. Beginning in September 2016, and every year afterwards, the benchmarking data from the previous year (i.e. the 2015 data during the 2016 compliance cycle) will be publicly shared for buildings with an ENERGY STAR score over 50. Buildings performing below average will not have their exact scores published, but it will be public that those buildings have complied with the ordinance. Private sector buildings between 25,000 square feet and 50,000 square feet will comply for the first time in 2017.

Compliance with the audit requirement will begin in 2016. About 10 percent of the covered buildings will be required to audit their buildings every year on a ten year cycle. There are exemptions available for buildings that are already efficient including buildings that have received an ENERGY STAR certification (a certified score of 75 or better); or buildings with energy performance at least 25 percent better than an average building of its type; or building with a LEED for Existing Buildings certification. Additionally, any building that has improved its ENERGY STAR score by 15 points or reduced its energy use intensity by 15 percent within the last five years is exempt. This is a smart policy approach because buildings that are already trying to reduce their energy use in measurable ways are recognized for their good work.

With the passage of this ordinance, Atlanta now joins eleven other cities with benchmarking ordinances in place, including Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Cambridge, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Austin, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Seattle. It also becomes the sixth city to pass an audit policy after New York City, Boston, Austin, San Francisco, and Berkeley.

The Atlanta Commercial Buildings Energy Efficiency Ordinance is part of the City's work under the City Energy Project, joint initiative of NRDC and the Institute for Market Transformation that aims to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in ten leading cities. Now it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work implementing this ordinance and making the promised environmental and economic benefits realities. .

Source of City Hall photo.

About the Authors

Kimi Narita

Director of Strategic Engagement, City Energy Project, Urban Solutions program

Join Us