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Mandatory Benchmarking: Des Moines Buildings Required to Report Energy and Water Efficiency

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Nearly 800 buildings in Des Moines will now have to report their energy and water usage to the city.

It’s a new ordinance approved by the city council in hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become more energy efficient. But it has some building owners worried for several reasons, including the data being published to the public.

"The reason we started down this path is that the city did a greenhouse gas inventory. We know that commercial energy use accounts for 35 percent of the city's gas emissions," city council member Josh Mandelbaum said.

The mandatory ordinance passed at Monday nights city council meeting 5-2. It will require all City of Des Moines buildings, commercial buildings, and multi-family buildings over 25,000 square feet to participate in this benchmarking, or face an annual fee of up to $500.

Mandelbaum says work on this ordinance started over a year ago. He says collaboration with stakeholders, like John Bergman, the vice president of Real Estate Management for Hubbell Realty,  helped to find a solution to the city’s energy usage.

"It's one of those things where I think both sides feel like it wasn't everything they wanted, but it was something they could live with. I think that probably indicates it was a good outcome,” Bergman said.

Each of the almost 800 buildings in Des Moines effected will receive an energy star score dependent on its energy efficiency compared to like buildings starting in 2020.

"The low hanging fruit for years has been lighting and switching out to LEDs, some of it is lighting controls,” Madelbaum said.

By 2022, that benchmarking information will be made public.

"We have an opportunity now to see the data,” Bergman said. “Private enterprises need to see the data so they can understand what is going on in their buildings and if they want to make adjustments, if they need to make adjustments, then we have an opportunity to do that before this data is made public."

There are a few exceptions, if the building scores a 75 or higher for good energy efficiency, they can opt-out of the public listing. Even if a building’s score is below the standard, the data can still be keep private if the owner voluntarily commits to a performance improvement path.

"There are over 20 cities that have done benchmarking around the country, so we are not the first,” Mandelbaum said. “We are building on best practices from elsewhere including Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Kansas City."

This new benchmarking will affect approximately 20 of Hubbell Realty buildings, some of which are already “Energy Star Certified,” but others that they expect to need adjustments which will cost money.

"Our commercial properties, we are already benchmarking,” Bergman said. “We already know where we are. We already know what we're doing. Our multifamily properties, we haven't done them as much, and we need to get started on that. We will find areas of improvement, you always do, that's the goal of benchmarking."

Those multi-family, multi-tenant buildings are why some property owners didn't want this ordinance. They said it's hard to regulate energy use from one unit to the next.

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