Providence’s Largest Buildings to Start Reporting Energy Usage to City
November 20, 2023
PROVIDENCE — What do the Graduate, the Turk’s Head Building, and One Financial Center have in common?
They are some of the biggest buildings in the city, and soon they’re going to have to disclose how much energy they consume.
Earlier this month the City Council passed a new building energy reporting program, the first of its kind in Rhode Island. Under the new ordinance, introduced by council member Susan AnderBois, any building with a footprint of 10,000 gross square feet or more will be required to report its energy consumption — the electricity used to power the building and what fuel is used to heat it — to the Department of Sustainability, which will make the data public.
“We can’t manage what we don’t measure,” AnderBois said in a statement after the ordinance passed. “This sets us on a path to managing the carbon emissions from our biggest source of climate pollution — the built environment.”
It was the second time the ordinance had been introduced to the City Council. The original version was introduced in 2021 by council member Helen Anthony.
The first buildings, which have footprints of 50,000 square feet or greater, will be required to file energy reports by May 15, 2025. Buildings with footprints of 20,000 square feet or greater, but less than 50,000, have until May 15, 2026.
Property owners who fail to report energy usage to the city could face civil fines up to $5,000.
The data will be used to pinpoint exactly what buildings could be made more energy-efficient, finding ways to use less energy while performing the same daily functions. Energy efficiency can lead to lower energy bills for the property owner, but it can also reduce the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by buildings.
Similar programs have been enacted in 30 cities across the country, including Boston, New York, Denver, Atlanta, and Reno.
Reducing building emissions is important in Providence, which has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050. Building emissions account for 70% of Providence’s carbon footprint, according to city estimates.
It’s not the first time Providence has dabbled in building energy reporting. The Department of Sustainability has been working on the program since 2016, and even launched a voluntary pilot program called RepowerPVD to conserve energy and reduce building emissions. Its participants included the Steelyard, the Providence Housing Authority, Johnson & Wales University, and a number of Providence school buildings.
The program was a small success, saving $1.2 million in energy costs among its participants, and reducing building emissions by 2,855 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the same amount as taking 631 cars off the road.
It’s not just a Providence problem; building energy consumption for electricity and heating accounts for the lion’s share of state emissions. Electricity consumption accounts for 20.6% of the state’s carbon footprint, and heating for residential and commercial and industry accounts for another 37.2%, almost as much as emissions from the transportation sector.
Reducing those emissions at a statewide level, including in Providence, is critical if Rhode Island is going to meet its carbon reduction goals mandated in the Act on Climate law. While total emissions are on a decline, according to the state’s latest GHG inventory, it’s not clear that the state is in for smooth sailing.
Building heating emissions declined 8.5% between 2019 and 2020, but thanks to the warmer winters brought by climate change, there are fewer days when residents have to turn on/up the heat.
Meanwhile, electricity emissions are increasing as the region relies more on a diminishing number of fossil fuel power plants. In Rhode Island electricity consumption emissions rose more than 16%, according to the latest GHG inventory.