The City of Madison has the opportunity to proactively support its businesses in the rapidly evolving energy marketplace that is coursing its way across the land today.
The simple and relatively modest step: adopt an ordinance that at its heart says: “Hey, Pay Attention — There Are Opportunities At Hand!”
The ordinance working its way toward the Common Council would have commercial building owners know clearly what the energy use is for their buildings (starting with those at 50,000 square feet and larger), what it’s costing, how today’s use compares to a building’s historical energy use (adjusting for the variations in seasonal temperatures and building use), and how that performance compares to similar buildings nationally.
Building energy-use benchmarking – just like the real-time miles per gallon technology common in cars these days — sets the stage for the next key step: taking action in minor and major ways to become more energy efficient.
The ordinance can help spread, deepen and quicken the excellent work accomplished so far on this front by players such as Madison Gas and Electric, Sustain Dane’s Mpower Business ChaMpions, Wisconsin Focus on Energy and other private companies and non-profits.
As Mark Greene pointed out in his thoughtfully-written column this earlier week (“City should focus on cooperation, not compliance”) in the Wisconsin State Journal, “It is important to consider that businesses that benchmark their energy usually continue to do so – with or without external pressures.” Yes the leaders will. They always have. But now is the time to get others on the train. The question is how best to achieve this.
While the terms “mandatory reporting” and “fines” understandably have raised ire in the community, some form of these two elements are useful to get the attention of those who have been just too busy so far. And in the process of moving the draft ordinance through the city committees, the definitions of these terms are being refined in response to feedback by Greene and others.
And guess what? The complexity and cost of keeping track of energy use is becoming easier and cheaper. ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager® is a free, very useful national benchmarking tool. More utilities are gradually making it easier for their customers to get the key data in useful formats. And for those who can’t wait, there are emerging alternatives. Our firm is testing a service that will provide automatic monthly energy use updates to Portfolio Manager for a building for just $75/year.
Madison is not alone. There are other cities nationally (Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and others) that have already adopted a benchmarking requirement. They have done so not to burden their businesses, but to enhance their economies and resilience in the decades ahead.
The proposed ordinance for Madison can be win-win-win-win: A win for the businesses that take action to improve energy use efficiency, a win for the utilities that don’t have to provide additional production capacity, a win for the local businesses providing energy efficient products and services, and a win for our community as a whole, both in the near term and for future generations.
Warren Gaskill is managing partner of Rapid Improvement Associates, LLC, a 14-year-old Dane County-based consultancy supporting project partners nationally to reduce energy use in over 300 buildings with its Energy Stewards® web platform.