Buildings account for nearly 80% of GHG emissions in some cities. Clean energy policies foster growth in local jobs.

  • St. Louis last week became the first Midwest city to pass a Building Energy Performance Standard (BEPS) to advance the city’s goal of eliminating community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050.
  • The BEPS plan is applicable to buildings that are 50,000 square feet or larger and were already required to report their energy and water use under current city law. Under BEPS, those buildings will be required to meet various levels of energy performance and impose energy-saving actions, such as upgrading HVAC units, ventilation, lighting and elevators.
  • The new law also sets up a Building Energy Improvement Board, which will be made up of nine members from utilities, labor, affordable housing owners and tenants, and commercial buildings. The board will help ensure buildings are complying with new standards and consider owners’ alternative plans if compliance is not possible.

Like in many cities, St. Louis’ buildings sector is responsible for a tremendous amount of GHG emissions: an estimated 80%. This legislation represents a major step forward in trying to curb those emissions, and comes on the heels of St. Louis being named one of the 25 winners of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge.

St. Louis has already made steady progress in its climate goals. Last October, the city released its first energy benchmarking report for municipal and privately owned buildings that are over 50,000 square feet, and found that more efficient performance would reduce emissions by at least 11% and save more than $65 million in annual energy costs. Meanwhile, St. Louis is looking to be innovative in other areas, having experimented with a microtransit pilot and a smart cities pilot program.

St. Louis is only the fourth government to adopt BEPS, behind Washington, DC, New York City and Washington State. The Institute for Market Transformation noted the similarities between St. Louis’ program and one passed in Washington, DC last year, although there are differences in timelines and the way they track energy use.

And in New York City, the Climate Mobilization Act that passed last year has provisions for bringing down buildings’ energy use, while the city went on to choose nine city facilities for deep energy retrofits. Washington State also has passed a statewide BEPS standard policy.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which backed St. Louis’ BEPS, said the new law should mean long-term cost savings for St. Louis (after an initial investment), smarter buildings, more jobs created and more capacity for electricity, in addition to other benefits.

NRDC experts said even amid the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, St. Louis sets an example other cities can follow, “by demonstrating that it can drive climate action and unlock a wide range of associated benefits for building owners and the entire St. Louis community.”

St. Louis became the fourth U.S. jurisdiction to pass a Buliding Energy Performance Standard (BEPS) ordinance that will create a path for deep cuts in emissions from buildings.

This ordinance is especially important for St. Louis, as buildings account for nearly 80% of the city’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to its latest GHG inventory. The emissions cut under the ordinance will lead to cleaner air, reduced pollution and improved public health with each energy efficiency upgrade.

Transitioning to clean energy can be part of securing a path to recovery for cities that are struggling with the current public health and economic situation. Missouri’s clean energy economy has grown exponentially faster than the state’s overall economy in previous years.

Smart clean energy policies at the city level foster growth in local jobs. Stronger building standards in St. Louis will help add to the estimated 42,000 jobs in the state’s energy efficiency industry. Additionally, as jobs in traditional fossil-based energy continue to disappear, clean energy provides a sustainable alternative for rural communities throughout the state both in terms of jobs and a reliable source of tax revenue.

Kansas City’s new carbon cutting standards will also have direct economic and health benefits to city residents. Being more energy efficient and switching to renewable energy in city buildings will save tax dollars that can then be used to fund other essential services.

The abundant and cheap clean power produced by the many wind farms in and around Missouri can also power homes and businesses, passing on the savings and health benefits to commercial tenants, renters and residents.

The urgency to transition to clean energy is not only in response to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also in response to the climate crisis that is already affecting the region. The Midwest is not immune to the worst of climate change. Floods and disrupted farm yields will continue to get worse and cities can be an important part of the fight against climate change and building of more resilient communities.

When cities like St. Louis and Kansas City lead the way, other Midwest cities will take note and look to implement similar policies. As we turn a corner out of the pandemic, we have an opportunity to consider how we can create a stronger and more resilient economy.

Clean energy policies like the ones in Missouri’s most populous cities will be a part of the state’s economic recovery. Kansas City and St. Louis set ambitious standards that will continue to lead to more innovative ways of transitioning to cleaner, healthier and more economically vibrant and resilient cities. These two Heartland cities in a red state are choosing to lead and not be left behind by other climate leaders across the country.