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MADISON CITY GOVERNMENT | FOCUS ON COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS

Madison announces plan to curb energy use in commercial buildings

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Madison officials want to save businesses money on energy costs while reducing one of the largest and most difficult sources of greenhouse gases.

City leaders said last week they are developing an ordinance requiring energy measurement and reduction measures for commercial buildings, which account for about a third of community-wide carbon emissions.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said the city must do its part to help cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half in the next seven years, which scientists have warned is necessary to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is one of the biggest threats to our stability, our economy and to our health,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Rhodes-Conway and City Council leaders said the plan, developed over the past year through ongoing talks with building owners and other stakeholders, is a key piece of the city’s goal to eliminate community-wide carbon emissions by 2050.

“We cannot achieve 2050 targets if we don’t take action,” said Ald. Syed Abbas, 12th District.

The city has not calculated the potential greenhouse gas reductions, but Abigail Corso, a building energy consultant who worked with the city, said those practices can reduce energy use by up to 16%.

While no ordinance has been introduced, Rhodes-Conway said the building energy savings program will require benchmarking — a way to measure and track energy use within a building — and regular “tune-ups” to energy systems.

Abbas said simple, low-cost measures such as occupancy sensors or even software updates on building controls could yield significant savings while also improving air quality and reducing planet-warming gases.

Ald. Tag Evers, 13th District, said the ordinance will be crafted to focus on the roughly 300 largest buildings that account for the bulk of commercial sector energy consumption.

Abbas said he hopes to introduce an ordinance by the end of the year with additional input from building owners and managers, as well as the public. The city will hold an online informational meeting on July 13, followed by a series of workshops later this summer.

Syed Abbas

Abbas

The city has been benchmarking energy use in its own buildings since 2015 and posts its energy use on a public dashboard.

Some pushback

The City Council considered a benchmarking ordinance in 2013, but the proposal was shelved after the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and other business groups opposed it. The council voted down a proposal to establish a voluntary benchmarking program in 2016.

Chamber president Zach Brandon said the latest proposal “is the same mandatory approach that failed in the past” and faulted the city for not first pursuing a voluntary approach.

“Energy efficiency and use should not be a place of disagreement,” Brandon said. “We look forward to a process that makes that a reality.”

Bill Connors, executive director of Smart Growth Madison, said members of the developers’ group have been involved in discussions.

“We have a great many questions and concerns that still need to be sorted out,” Connors said. “We want it to be something that actually adds value. They want it to be something that actually adds value. There’s hope we can get on the same page.”

Previous steps

Madison adopted a sustainability plan in 2011 calling for an 80% community-wide reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, a target that has since been upped to 100%. In 2019, the council approved a $95 million plan to make local government operations carbon neutral by 2030.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy said last year that Madison is not yet on track to meet that goal.

But the city was the most improved in the group’s annual scorecard, rising to 39th among the nation’s 100 largest cities, thanks to investments in clean energy and green infrastructure, as well as an ordinance requiring new commercial buildings be wired for electric vehicle chargers.

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