New Energy Rules For Commercial Buildings

By Don MacGillivray

If anyone thinks Portland isn’t serious about climate change, think again.

The City recently adopted a new policy to track energy output and carbon emissions of large commercial buildings. It requires owners and tenants of the largest buildings to measure and report their energy usage.

Buildings are the single largest contributor to carbon emissions in Multnomah County, accounting for more than 40 percent of total emissions. The policy will annually include approximately 1,000 buildings in Portland and about 80 percent of the commercial square footage.

Over $335 million are spent on the energy requirements of 5,000 commercial buildings here.  By controlling energy use ,the City can save $6 million per year.

The best way to reduce carbon emissions is to replace existing power plants with renewable, non-polluting sources such as solar and wind power.

Two-thirds of the electricity serving Multnomah County is generated from coal and natural gas. The objectives in the 2009 and 2015 Climate Action Plans call for improved energy efficiency of existing buildings and the maximization of energy performance for new buildings.

The City of Portland and Multnomah County are developing a clean energy fund to assist in providing financing for energy upgrades. It is expected to be an investment fund with public and private capital with access to $10 million annually.

Businesses will pay back the investment over an extended period of time with energy savings that will match or exceed finance payments.

Portland has already created energy efficiency fund energy for projects in Portland homes and they intend to do this for commercial buildings. They also expect to limit increases in property taxes due to completed energy retrofits.

The goal of Portland’s Climate Action Plan is to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent over the next thirty-five years.

The policy begins this year for commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet. The reporting due date will be April 22, 2016 for these owners.

Next year all commercial buildings over 20,000 square feet will be included in the program with the same reporting date each year. Each owner and tenant in these buildings will be responsible for calculating and reporting their data.

Types of buildings that will report their energy use are commercial offices, retail spaces, markets, hotels, healthcare facilities and colleges. Exempt until later are homes, apartment buildings, warehouses, churches, schools, and industrial buildings.

While this policy may seem onerous, there is a free on-line tool created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called the Energy Star Portfolio Manager that assists with tracking energy usage in any building.

A helpful tool for those that are designing new buildings, all that is needed are the energy bills and basic information about the building. About 100 buildings in Portland are using the Energy Star certification system.

EPA’s initial analysis of annual energy performance tracking with Portfolio Manager suggests these practices result in average energy savings of seven percent over three years.

Forty percent of the commercial building space in the United States is using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager. Cities include Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis and Philadelphia.

There will be workshops and training sessions for owners and managers of local buildings to learn the ins and outs of the system.

The Energy Trust of Oregon, the Oregon Department of Energy, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, utilities and other organizations, together with the City of Portland and Multnomah County have had significant success in increasing energy efficiency.

For those that would like more information about this, contact Vinh Mason, the Green Building Coordinator at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability at 503.823.3246 or email

New Energy Rules For Commercial Buildings

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