Providence Proposes Ordinance to Track Energy Use

If passed, ordinance is expected to reduce building energy consumption


Urban Greens on Cranston Street has cut its energy use in half since the grocery store started tracking its power consumption. (Truth Box Inc.)

PROVIDENCE — Knowledge is power, and in the city’s case, that means building owners knowing their energy use can help society mitigate the climate crisis.

At a Wednesday Zoom press meeting, members of the City Council, the Office of Sustainability, the mayor’s office, and the Providence community formally introduced a proposed Building Emissions Reporting Ordinance for Rhode Island’s capital city.

“Buildings account for over 70 percent of our greenhouse-gas emissions,” Helen Anthony, Ward 2 council member and co-sponsor of the ordinance, said during the Jan. 13 meeting. “If Providence is to become carbon neutral by 2050, we must engage every part of our economy and use every tool we have.”

The ordinance, if passed, would require owners of buildings of more than 10,000 square feet to report their energy usage using the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool.

“The purpose of the program is to encourage energy efficiency, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and to enable more effective energy and climate protection planning,” Anthony said. “This program will also help building owners connect with existing energy-efficiency programs offered by National Grid, something we all pay for, and also help National Grid develop programs that better match the building owners’ needs for real sustainability.”

Building-energy reporting ordinances have been put in place in other cities, such as New York, which was one of the first cities to implement an energy benchmarking law in 2009.

“Building-energy disclosure has been shown to provide a small but significant incentive for building owners and operators to improve energy efficiency,” according to the Paulson Institute.

The Chicago-based organization noted that after three years of mandatory reporting for more than 13,000 New York City properties energy use per building declined citywide.

Peter Gill Case, principal for Truth Box Inc., a Providence-based architectural firm specializing in environmentally friendly building design, implored building owners to support this citywide effort, saying it will benefit everyone in the long term.

“I don’t want to hear any objections now or ever about this very important standard that needs to be implemented,” he said. “You can have improved economies, you can have your climate goals achieved, and you can have healthier homes at the same time. It’s a triple win for us.”

Gill Case went on to mention a few projects that his firm is involved in that are voluntarily collecting energy-use data and told attendees how this knowledge can helped reduce overall energy costs.

“I’m going to address a couple of projects we worked on. One of them is Urban Greens, the new food co-op in Providence,” he said. “Grocery stores are notorious energy hogs. And while we haven’t found the actual data yet because the portfolio manager takes a year to get that data, through anecdotal evidence from the managers of the store, we have cut the energy use of that building in half. This is one of the leading grocery stores in terms of energy efficiency in the nation, and this will be documented in the coming year.”

The ordinance is expected to be introduced to the City Council on Jan. 21.


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