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Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway announced new climate policy for commercial buildings in the city, hoping to further reduce carbon emissions. 

To help reach the ambitious energy goal of net zero carbon emissions for city operations by 2030, Madison has launched a new climate policy aimed at energy efficient commercial buildings.

The Building Energy Savings program, announced on June 22, will help commercial building owners identify opportunities to increase energy efficiency of their buildings. These buildings currently account for one third of community-wide greenhouse gas emissions, according to the city. The goal is to “avoid the catastrophic impacts that climate change could have on all Madisonians,” a statement said.

“Improving energy efficiency is one of the most important things we can all do to combat climate change,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a statement. “We are committed to working with the Madison community to tailor a program for Madison that benefits building owners and tenants.”

The City of Madison hopes to reach 100% renewable energy for city operations by 2030 and net zero carbon emissions community-wide by 2050. 

“Accomplishing that requires cutting emissions across all sectors, from our transportation to our buildings — those are the two big chunks of emissions that we have,” said Jessica Price, the city’s sustainability and resilience manager.

The details of how the city might enforce this are still a work in progress, Price said.

“The city will provide clear requirements, guidance and realistic timelines for compliance,” Price wrote in an email. “We will support and work with building owners to meet the requirements. If these efforts fail, the city will assess fines for noncompliance.” 

Resilient buildings

Price’s position is new to the Mayor’s office, and Price has been in it for about a year, examining energy usage and operations both internally and across the city.

The Building Energy Savings program is notable because it tackles the private sector. The program will focus on energy benchmarking and periodic tune-ups for large commercial buildings. Other supporting initiatives intend to help reduce energy waste through operations changes, transitions to LED lighting, upgrades to HVAC equipment and more.

The city has been employing benchmarking and periodic tune-ups on its own buildings since 2015, Price said.

“We've been using that information to make smart choices about how we operate our buildings, when it's necessary and what upgrades we need to do to improve efficiency in our buildings,” she said. “The goal is really to save energy, which saves money and also reduces our carbon emissions. 

“It makes our buildings more comfortable,” she said. “It makes our buildings more resilient.”

More specifically, energy benchmarking is examining and understanding how much energy a building is using, what kind of energy is being used, and how that all plays into building operations. Tune-ups are what they sound like: a check in to make sure all building systems are running well. The goal is to catch un-noticed issues that can waste energy. 

Price said these measures don’t require expensive upgrades; they simply provide information to building owners, so they can make smart decisions.

“It's sort of a choose your own path for what you do with that information,” she said, “but oftentimes when people have it, they make smarter choices.”

Small changes can have major results — benchmarking can save up to 8% of energy use for a building. Combined with tune-ups, these measures can reduce energy use by 15% or more.

One of many

With this new program, Madison will join more than 40 other state and local governments across the country with policies and programs aimed at making their existing building stock more energy efficient and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

“This is an opportunity for Madison’s business community to stand alongside the city and commit to real climate action,” Ald. Tag Evers, District 13, said at Wednesday’s launch. “I encourage all business and community leaders to work with city staff on how to maximize the benefits of this program.”

The program will roll out over time, to help buildings adapt to the new policy. The city plans on hosting trainings, workshops, information sessions and providing more resources, like a help desk, to invite collaboration with business leaders in the community. 

Price said it will be a learning experience for all involved.

“We're going to be working really hard to reach everyone to make sure that folks are aware of the program,” Price said. “Ultimately, connecting folks with the resources and information they need to participate (in) good benchmarking and tuneups … we are looking at those as requirements for commercial buildings.”

Many local institutions and businesses in Madison are already trying to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings and combat climate change. UW Health utilizes benchmarking to examine energy performance. Compass Properties, a real estate development company with properties in Madison, Milwaukee and Central Wisconsin, tracks energy use throughout its portfolio of commercial buildings.

“This is something that we need all buildings to participate in if we're going to get to those goals,” Price said. “It's all hands on deck right to take climate action … that's why we're looking at this set of policies and the program, to really help us get there and enable everybody in the commercial building space to be part of the solution.”

The city will hold a virtual public information meeting on July 13 at 1:30 p.m. followed by a series of workshops to gather public input on specific aspects of the program design. The workshops are scheduled for Wednesdays: July 20, July 27 and Aug. 3 at 1 p.m.

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