Mayor Reed’s office responds to report on proposed sustainability ordinance

By David Pendered

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration has what it describes as, “serious concerns over the accuracy of claims made,” in a March 24 report of an Atlanta City Council committee meeting on the administration’s proposed sustainability program for commercial buildings.

Denise Quarles

Denise Quarles

The following is the complete text of a column produced by Denise Quarles, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability, in response to the story:

As people around the nation work to reduce pollution, boost their economies and combat climate change, Atlanta is taking steps to create a healthier, more prosperous city by improving energy efficiency in its large buildings.

The City of Atlanta has been leading by example through its commitment to energy and water efficiency, although there is still more to do. The City has collaborated with stakeholders throughout the community to create opportunities in all sectors. And let’s give credit where credit is due: many companies, associations and institutions have already made strong commitments to improving resource use in buildings across the community.

As a result, Atlanta is leading in the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge and ranks third nationally in Energy Star-certified buildings, both of which are impressive achievements. However, recent research from Georgia Tech shows that of the 100 largest regions in the country, Atlanta’s energy efficiency improvement in commercial buildings ranks 93rd. What we currently see is great leadership from a few, but there are still many opportunities to achieve energy and water efficiencies across the city.

Hemphill Water Treatment Plant

The federal Environmental Protection Agency recognized Atlanta’s Hemphill Water Treatment Plant in 2013 for reducing its energy consumption by 40 percent. Credit: processingmagizine.com

We are proud of the progress that has been made, but our buildings are ripe with potential for further improvements. The fact still remains that there is a large gap between the levels of energy efficiency observed in our largest buildings and the performance if cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities were realized. A big part of this gap is due to a lack of information about building performance and the existing opportunities for improvement.

Nationally, buildings are responsible for 40 percent of energy consumption; in Atlanta, this same figure jumps to 66 percent. Wasted resources drain millions of dollars from Atlanta’s economy each year; the result is lost opportunities, lower overall employment and increased levels of pollution – for example, buildings are responsible for more emissions in Atlanta than any other source. Simply knowing how a building is performing on a consistent basis can shed a tremendous amount of light on the potential for improvement.

The wonderful part about energy and water efficiency is that by pursuing cost-effective efficiency opportunities, businesses see a benefit to the bottom line while the negative impacts of wasted resources shrink. Recognizing this, through the leadership of Mayor Kasim Reed and the support of Atlanta City Council, the City of Atlanta joined the City Energy Project, a network of 10 cities nationwide that are collaborating and sharing best practices for efficiency policies. While this is a national network, each city is different and unique, facing its own challenges. As such, the Office of Sustainability has been working with local stakeholders for over six months to develop a package that fits the Atlanta market, using forums that range from large stakeholder engagement meetings to one-on-one conversations.

Conversations with stakeholders around the city resulted in over forty modifications to the proposed policy package. The projected outcome of this package is a return of $290 million back to the local economy by 2020. Over the next five years, efficiency investments made by the private sector are projected to create or sustain 6,000 jobs in our local economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two million metric tons, and provide public health benefits of over $100 million through improvements in air quality. Additionally, the water efficiency measures could save 1.2 billion gallons of water through 2020, which is particularly important given our recent experience with droughts.

The four components of the policy package include:

  1. Benchmarking. What’s not measured is not managed, and collecting building energy and water use data sets a performance baseline that allows building owners to know how their buildings compare to similar buildings, the magnitude of potential savings, and whether efficiency improvements are having a positive impact. The process is simple with minimal time investment. Professional training is available on-line at any time and at no cost. Benchmarking energy consumption within the City’s portfolio has already yielded savings of over $300,000.
  2. Transparency. Sharing benchmarking data on a large scale opens up a conversation between all stakeholders and allows everyone to work toward common energy goals by recognizing and rewarding efficiency. It also provides information to the marketplace so that consumers can make smarter decisions. This is a simple two-step process online; there is no cost for owners to share the information.
  3. Energy Audits. An energy audit is a detailed assessment of how a building could improve its performance through upgrading its equipment and systems. Every ten years, property owners will perform an energy audit to understand how equipment is performing and what opportunities exist for improvement. Owners will have the power to make the decisions that make the most business sense. For example, the audit will likely reveal items with under a one or two-year payback and other items with a ten-year payback; some of these items will probably be appealing investments. These studies can be performed by third parties, Georgia Power, or qualified on-site staff.
  4. Retrocommissioning. Retrocommissioning is similar to energy audits, but focuses on opportunities to reduce energy or water consumption by tuning up equipment currently operating within a building. This component is optional, but the City co-developed an Atlanta-specific set of retrocommissioning recommendations with industry experts which is included in the proposal. One such item that can be found by retrocommissioning building systems is fixing failed sensors that, when repaired, can dramatically improve system performance.

Our buildings hold the key to unlocking vast opportunities that will benefit Atlanta’s residents across the city. However, it can’t be done by the City alone. Parts of the proposal can have associated costs, but these are investments made by business owners where the returns outweigh the costs and strengthen the community. Hand in hand with businesses and residents, we can make our city cleaner, smarter and more resilient.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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