City Council approves energy efficient building ordinance

Salt Lake City took a significant step toward curbing building emissions on Tuesday when the Salt Lake City Council approved the Energy Benchmarking & Transparency Ordinance, an ordinance aimed at cutting energy costs, improving local air quality and reducing the city’s carbon footprint.

“This ordinance is a win-win. It requires certain buildings to undertake mandatory measurement of their energy use and report it to the City,” said Vicki Bennett, Director of the Sustainability Department in a statement.

City officials estimate that the ordinance would save local buildings owners $15.8 million in annual energy costs and eliminate over 29 tons of criteria pollutants from Salt Lake City’s air each year.  According to a city-released statement, the market-based ordinance works by phasing-in new requirements for buildings over 25,000 square feet to “benchmark” or measure their energy usage annually.

“This is a ‘let me hit you with the club first’ mentality instead of a cared approach,” said Council member James Rogers, the lone dissenting vote. “I would feel much more comfortable about it setting benchmarks for us to achieve over a time frame.”

Rogers, who acknowledged that he owns a building over 24,000 square-feet, argued that the ordinance was mostly just symbolic because the Utah State Legislature would most likely kill this bill anyway.  “This is not a good way for us to enact an ordinance, or put it into place when it’s just going to get killed anyway,” he said.

According to a statement from the city, the ordinance requires all commercial buildings above 25,000 square feet to benchmark and report their energy consumption to Salt Lake City on an annual basis using the free online ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager software.

The Portfolio Manager tool gives buildings an energy score from 1 to 100, with anything 75 or over considered to be high-performing. This score gives buildings a standard metric through which to gauge their performance over time as well as against buildings of similar use and type. It also allows building owners and managers to identify if their buildings are good candidates for voluntary efficiency improvements to reduce energy waste—and therefore air pollution.

City officials have agreed to roll out the ordinance’s implementation over a staggered timeline:

  • Salt Lake City municipal buildings benchmark and report their ENERGY STAR score in 2018. (The City has already begun benchmarking. Reports can be viewed at
  • Commercial buildings 50,000 square feet and larger benchmark and report in May 2019
  • Commercial buildings 25,000 square feet and larger benchmark and report in May 2020.

“That is all. It’s then up to building owners and managers to decide if they want to make voluntary energy efficiency improvements that will save them money,” said Bennett, in a statement. “We think they will after seeing the dollars and cents they’ll save. Increasing the number of buildings saving energy will then go a long way to clearing our air and reducing Salt Lake City’s carbon footprint.”

Beginning in 2020, Salt Lake City will publish a list of all commercial buildings that received an above-average ENERGY STAR score of 50 or above. Building owners will also have the option of displaying their actual scores.

ENERGY STAR-certifiable buildings– those with a score of 75 and above—will automatically be a contender at the annual Skyline Challenge Awards, an event that honors the top energy efficiency leaders in Utah.

In addition to the ordinance will create a resource center, housed in the Salt Lake City Sustainability Department, to help building managers understand the range of tools and incentives available to voluntarily upgrade equipment to reduce costs and prevent pollution.

According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, residential and commercial buildings currently contribute 39 percent of the air pollution in the Salt Lake valley on a given winter day.

Analysis from Salt Lake City’s Department of Sustainability and the non-profit City Energy Project show the Energy Benchmarking & Transparency Ordinance will cut an estimated 29 tons of nitrogen oxides, a key contributor to wintertime air pollution, from the air each year.

According to a city statement, the ordinance helps Salt Lake City achieve its Climate Positive goals of transitioning the community to 100 percent clean electricity by 2032, followed by an overall greenhouse gas reduction of 80 percent by 2040.

“Non-residential buildings represent 51 percent of Salt Lake City’s community-wide carbon footprint,” said Kevin Emerson, Director of Energy Efficiency Programs for Utah Clean Energy a local nonprofit in a statement. “By adopting this innovative policy, Utah’s capital city is leading the way to help improve air quality and lower climate emissions by using market forces to encourage greater levels of energy savings in large buildings.”

Energy efficient buildings are initially more expensive to build, with future savings coming through lower energy costs.  While the city’s new ordinance focuses on commercial buildings, multi-family and single family homes are also significant contributors of carbon emissions.

A 2016 report by RENTCafé.coma nationwide apartment search website, found that while nationally renters spend an average of $560 more per month to live in green/LEED-certified buildings, in Salt Lake renters spend only $172 more per month live in green, multifamily developments.

In the single-family market, there are two residential developments underway that will be net zero, the Almond Street Townhomes, a 17-unit development near 200 North and West Temple, and the  Living Zenith, a five-home development on the 1100 South block of 400 East.  Both homes will produce as much energy as they consume each year.

“The City’s carbon reduction goals are aggressive, but they are completely attainable with strategies like this to reduce emissions,” said Council Member Erin Mendenhall.  “Cities use these types of programs and tools effectively across the country to improve air quality, and those cities are successful at attracting talent and economic development because this is important to people.”

On the same day that council approved the new building ordinance, a group of 30 Utah business leaders held a media event to address a perceived lack of action from Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert on improving the state’s air quality.  The business group called for restrictions on wood burning and car emissions and argued that the region’s air quality is impeding emloyee recruiting efforts.

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at