Evanston aldermen Monday put a hold on a proposed ordinance that would require owners of hundreds of commercial buildings in town to report their energy usage to the city.

City staff and the Utilities Commission had recommended approval of the so-called benchmarking ordinance as a way to encourage reduction in the use of water, electricity and natural gas.

But property manager Dan Schermerhorn said the ordinance is not necessary — that property owners already know full well the cost of energy and have been working for decades to reduce those costs.

“You don’t need to force owners to gather the data, send it to the city and then have the city send it back to us,” Schermerhorn added.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, proposed the hold at the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting. He said he’d gotten calls from business owners saying they didn’t agree with the plan and he questionned why the city — which provides water service — should need to require businesses to report their water usage.

That’s data the city already has, Braithwaite said.

Kumar Jensen.

Kumar Jensen, the environmental projects coordinator in the city’s Public Works Agency, said about 19 other communities around the country have adopted similar ordinances.

And he said ComEd and Nicor Gas refuse to turn over customer usage data to municipalities, so the city would have to get the information from the customers to be able to monitor usage.

He said the city would encourage building owners to use free software promoted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency called Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

The website for that software claims that it is already used by owners of 40 percent of the commercial building space in the nation and is used by cities including New York, Seattle and Boston that have mandatory benchmarking laws.

Jensen, in a memo to aldermen, estimated that about 20 percent of the buildings that would be covered by the Evanston ordinance already benchmark their operations and he said the Evanston ordinance was patterned after one adopted in Chicago — although Evanston’s ordinance would apply to smaller buildings than those covered in Chicago.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she agreed with the energy reduction goal of the ordinance but said large building owners “are already watching those cost numbers like a hawk.”

If you’re not, Rainey added, “You’re either very rich or very stupid.”

She also said the $50 per day fine for non-compliance included in the ordinance “makes no sense at all.”

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, suggested finding a way to incentivize people to benchmark, rather than imposing fines.

The decision to hold the ordinance means it will be up for discussion again at the A&PW committee’s next meeting on Monday, Aug. 15.

Related stories

City to make big building owners report energy use (6/22/16)

Plan would force building owners to report energy usage (3/17/15)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Good Move

    The council made a good move by putting the "benchmarking ordinance" on hold. This was step one. Step two should be burying this ordinance. This ordinance appears to fall into the category of a "Big Brother"  rule. 

    1. Does the City Manager come up

      Does the City Manager come up with these ideas and have Mr. Jensen investiagte or did Mr. Jensen come up with this on his own? A complete waste of our resrouces if these are the type of items the City Manager is asking staff to look into. 

      1. Origin of the idea

        Actually, as the story points out, the idea came from the Utility Commission, an advisory body of citizens appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.

        It was first discussed at a City Council meeting over a year ago, which I believe was before Jensen was hired.

        At that time the council discussed, but did not act on the concept.

        — Bill

      2. Energy Benchmarking!

        As someone who has been a part of the Evanston community since 1975, a practicing architect located in Evanston since 1994, a founding board member of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, and a member of the American Institute of Architect’s 2030 Commitment National Working Group since 2011, I feel I am in a unique position to provide comment on the proposed ordinance.  I was also one of the initial architectural firms involved with having the City of Chicago sign on to their Benchmarking Ordinance.
        Energy Benchmarking is currently in 20 cities around the U.S.  Those 20 cities comprise over 117 million people, about 1/3 of the entire U.S. population.  It is neither an onerous task for the building engineer/manager to report nor is it burdensome to the building owner.  Benchmarking gives easy to follow feedback to the building owners and even more importantly to the building engineer.  That feedback is similar to how a dashboard on a car helps the driver get better fuel economy by seeing the impact of their actions.  If you don’t know how you are doing it is next to impossible to be able to make improvements.  Logging this information into Portfolio Manager allows the building performance and improvements to be clearly understood over time.

        Evanston has always been a progressive town in many respects.  It’s environmental leadership has been one the main reasons I maintain an extremely strong relationship to the community.  I would urge passage of the Benchmarking Ordinance for its overall positive impact it will have on the City’s ongoing efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, making buildings more energy efficient and saving money that otherwise would be going to the utility companies.


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