Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to create a four-star energy rating system for Chicago buildings cleared a City Council committee Wednesday amid concern that it risks unfairly “stigmatizing” buildings.
The rating would apply to 3,500 Chicago buildings that are already required to “benchmark” their energy data.
It will use the building’s most recent score and recent energy improvements to calculate the star rating, with four being the highest.
Based on 2016 energy consumption data provided to the city, 870 buildings would earn a four-star rating; 570 buildings would get three stars; 460 buildings would earn two-stars, and 760 buildings would get one-star, Chris Wheat, the city’s chief sustainability officer told the Zoning Committee.
At a time when President Donald Trump is “unwilling to lead on climate change,” Wheat said it “falls on cities like Chicago to find creative ways to reduce carbon emissions” and the four-star rating system is one of them.
He argued that the rating system imposes “zero forced costs” on building owners, even as it requires them to post their ratings in prominent locations so prospective tenants can make informed decisions about energy costs.
Beth Wanless, director of governmental affairs for the Chicago Association of Realtors, supported the rating system “with caution.”
She cited “confusion . . . about the sign program and how it may be perceived to a lay person” unfamiliar with the Environmental Protection Agency’s energy star commercial buildings program ratings and concerns about the “next steps in the program.
“The Chicago Association of Realtors strongly opposes any future amendments that would mandate energy reductions by imposing costly property alterations, additional staff hiring, fines and potentially a tax for not achieving certain levels of energy conservation,” Wanless told aldermen.
Ron Tabaczynski serves as director of governmental affairs for the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago that represents 240 high-rise commercial office buildings in Chicago.
Tabaczynski said he supports benchmarking, but not the “mandatory public disclosure portion of the ordinance that includes the star rating system.”
“It’s the same system that’s used to grade restaurants. And we’re concerned that it oversimplifies what goes into an energy star score. Reducing that score to a four-star scale magnifies the innaccuracies and diminishes the score’s value and usefulness,” Tabaczynski said.
Michael Mini, serves as executive vice president of the Chicagoland Apartment Association, which represents 175 owner management companies that together own or manage over 900 apartment buildings with 180,000 units.
Mini said sustainability is a “worthwhile goal” and a “good business practice” and his members have “worked to comply” with a benchmarking ordinance that has “provided a level of awareness” for prospective tenants.
But Mini warned that the four-star rating system could “give a false impression and stigmatize one building over another” unfairly, particularly if that building includes a restaurant.
Wheat responded to those concerns by pointing to Trump’s refusal to recognize climate change and the need for Chicago to lead in his absence.
“Large buildings account for nearly 20 percent of all of Chicago’s carbon emissions, the primary culprit to climate change,” he said. “That’s roughly the same amount of carbon emissions that are created from every car, truck and bus on the streets of Chicago.
“We believe the rating system will help provide uniform and simple information to building owners, potential buyers and lessees [and] encourage buildings to do more energy efficiency and clean energy work,” Wheat added.
Earlier this year, Emanuel announced that more than 900 government buildings would shift electricity use to “100 percent renewable energy” by 2025.
The ambitious plan contrasted sharply with Trump’s environmental retreat.
The 900 government buildings will make the switch through a variety of strategies.
They include: purchasing “renewable energy credits” by going out to the market to buy a megawatt of solar or wind power; purchasing utility-supplied renewable energy through the Illinois Renewable Portfolio Standard or by installing solar panel or windmills on city buildings or on public property.