The Chicago City Council has approved a controversial ordinance, introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, that will require the city’s largest buildings to benchmark their energy use and authorize the City to disclose the energy efficiency for these buildings publicly. The ordinance passed the City Council in a 32-17 vote.

Mayor Emanuel claims that through benchmarking and disclosure, the ordinance will spur the market for energy efficiency by encouraging building owners to make improvements, creating growth opportunities for energy service companies and contractors. “Good data drives markets and innovation,” said Mayor Emanuel, “This ordinance will accelerate Chicago’s growth as a capital for green jobs by arming building owners, real estate companies, energy service companies and others with the information they need to make smart, cost-saving investments.”

[pullquote]”Benchmarking empowers building owners and managers with the knowledge to run their buildings as efficiently as possible, and we strongly support it. However, it shouldn’t come at the cost of jeopardizing older and historically significant buildings that make the CBD a unique and desirable place for businesses. We would rather see the many environmental achievements of our buildings celebrated.”
– Michael Cornicelli, executive vice president of BOMA Chicago[/pullquote]

Under the ordinance, approximately 3,500 commercial, residential, and municipal buildings over 50,000 square feet will be required to track and verify energy consumption using Portfolio Manager, a free web-based tool administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Covered buildings will report energy use data annually to the City through an automated process and be required to have their data verified by a licensed architect, engineer or other professional recognized by the City every three years. The City will publish an annual report on energy efficiency. The ordinance will also allow the City to publicly disclose individual building energy performance, starting in June 2015.

“We endorse Chicago’s efforts to enact an ordinance that makes building energy performance information available to everyone and any time,” said Dan Probst, Chairman of Energy and Sustainability Services for Jones Lang LaSalle, “Our experience is that full disclosure of performance information, like ENERGY STAR ratings, is one of the most effective ways to achieve energy efficiency. It gives every building a public incentive to improve energy performance, and that is really powerful.”

Not everyone agrees. BOMA Chicago (Building Owners and Managers Association) believes that the public disclosure mandate in the ordinance will unfairly penalize older and historic buildings that struggle with infrastructure limitations and the cost of retrofit work. “Benchmarking empowers building owners and managers with the knowledge to run their buildings as efficiently as possible, and we strongly support it. However, it shouldn’t come at the cost of jeopardizing older and historically significant buildings that make the CBD a unique and desirable place for businesses. We would rather see the many environmental achievements of our buildings celebrated,” said Michael Cornicelli, executive vice president of BOMA Chicago.

Commercial and municipal buildings will report in two batches. The first group, consisting of buildings larger than 250,000 square feet will first report in June 2014. The second group, consisting of buildings that fall between 50,000-250,000 square feet, will first report in June 2015. Residential buildings within each of these two groups of covered buildings will have an additional year to comply with the ordinance, with buildings with more than 250,000 square feet first reporting in June 2015 and buildings in the 50,000-250,000 square feet range first reporting in 2016. Public disclosure of energy efficiency data for each group could not occur until one year after the compliance date.

The proposed ordinance contains exemptions for brand new construction or buildings facing financial distress. Consumption data will not be disclosed publicly for buildings with more than 10% of floor space dedicated to data centers, TV studios, or trading floors.

In passing the energy benchmarking ordinance, Chicago will join eight cities and two states that currently require energy benchmarking, including New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, Austin, San Francisco, California, and Washington State.