New energy program could cost local high-rises

Staff Writer

A proposed energy reporting ordinance would require many Hyde Park high-rises to make public how much energy they consume and to verify that data, which could cost in the thousands of dollars.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel first introduced the ordinance in June. It will come up for a vote at the September City Council meeting. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said at a public meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 27 that it would disproportionately affect residential high-rises along the lakeshore.

The ordinance would affect all residential and commercial buildings in the city of Chicago that total more than 50,000 square feet, or approximately 3,500 buildings.

Karen Weigart, chief sustainability officer with the City of Chicago, said the ordinance would be for informational purposes and would not require any old buildings make improvements to bring down their energy use.

“For many buildings in Chicago they’re looking at cost structure and energy use is right there on the list,” Weigart said. The purpose of making the information public, she said, would allow nearby building managers to be able to compare their energy use to similar buildings, and to provide that data to consumers who may be considering moving into a building.

Wiegart estimated that the verification process, which the ordinance would require every three years, would cost between $750 and $2,500 per building.

“I suspect if this ordinance were to go forward, and there was a market, that those prices would go down,” Weigart said.

If a building had an engineer, architect or another trained employee on staff, that person could perform the verification without having to use an outside contractor.

“The city is not going to recommend anything to your building,” Weigart said. “What your building decides to do with its information is now in the hands of the experts, which is the building manager and the building owner.”

Not all residents were comfortable with the city making a building’s energy use public information and said it could cause trouble for a building with vacant apartments to fill.

“Why does the city need to disclose publicly the information of the buildings,” said Elliott El-Amin. “This could be a form of redlining.”

While Wiegart insisted the ordinance would not require any changes be made to any building, she wouldn’t say if the city would require them in the future.

“In theory the city could mandate it now. The city could mandate it without going through all these steps, so I can’t prove that there’s no mandate,” Weigart said. “In other cities they just mandate it without all this information.”

Hairston said she opposed how quickly this was being pushed through the City Council and that it would disproportionately affect high-rise buildings along the lakefront.

“There are not enough of us aldermen on the lakefront to vote this down,” Hairston said. “The community cannot pay any more and we don’t want to be forced into compliance … there is no reason for this to pass in September.”