On Nov. 2, the Providence City Council passed the Building Energy Reporting Ordinance, which mandates that owners of large buildings — those over 20,000 square feet — must track and report their energy usage to the city.
The ordinance aims to help Providence become a leader in nationwide sustainable initiatives, according to a press release from the city. Over thirty other cities across the country, including Boston and Pittsburg, have passed similar legislation to make energy use more transparent and reduce pollution.
“Improving the energy efficiency of our buildings is critical” to turning Providence carbon-neutral by 2050, the press release reads. “Buildings account for over 70% of Providence’s carbon footprint.”
Building owners will use the free Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool to report their energy use and then compare it with buildings of similar size across the United States. “The City then discloses that data publicly, bringing transparency to the marketplace and unlocking the economic, health and environmental benefits of energy efficiency,” the press release noted.
“We cannot really provide good programs and policy to address the energy use of buildings without good data,” wrote Ward 3 Councilwoman Sue AnderBois, sponsor of the ordinance, in an email to The Herald.
According to AnderBois, the ordinance’s passing can be partially attributed to the success of the RepowerPVD initiative, a voluntary energy challenge program introduced in 2015 that allowed city building owners to join a “race” to become the first Zero Energy Building in Providence.
For AnderBois, the program proved that a city-wide policy would be possible. “I’m personally grateful to the folks who participated in RepowerPVD to pave the way for this larger effort,” she wrote.
The BERO is one of the city’s new strategies to reach the goals outlined in the 2021 Act on Climate, which committed Providence to becoming a carbon-neutral city by 2050. The act came in the wake of Providence’s 2019 Climate Justice Plan.
The BERO “was a recommendation specifically in the Climate Justice Plan,” AnderBois wrote.
Minority communities in Providence “are dealing with the effects of climate change (disproportionately) to their contributions to climate change,” she added. “Addressing the (greenhouse gases) of the built environment is dealing with emissions that are having impacts on environmental justice communities.”
“What is critical in catalyzing action for both mitigation and resilience and adaptation is data — accessible data that people can act on in making changes for a more climate-resilient future,” wrote Michele Jalbert, executive director of the Providence Resilience Partnership, in an email to The Herald.
“Building data can translate into site-by-site strategies for improved energy efficiency,” Jalbert added.
While the ordinance was officially introduced on Jan. 21, 2021, the Office of Sustainability started developing the plan back in 2016, according to AnderBois.
Part of the delay in turning BERO into a reality relates to R.I.’s switch from National Grid to Rhode Island Energy, wrote AnderBois. “A lot of the work on this ordinance had been done with the understanding of National Grid's billing infrastructure, and the change in energy companies was definitely a hiccup.”
The delays in implementing the BERO incentivized AnderBois to run for City Council. “I ran in part because I watched commonsense climate policy not pass for the decade I’ve been living in” Providence, she added.
Now, AnderBois is hopeful that building owners will see serious reductions in energy use.
“This type of data can help design and implement programs that help building owners reduce their energy use,” she wrote. It’s “a win-win for the environment and their own bottom lines.”
Julia Vaz is a Metro editor covering the environment and crime and justice beats. She is a sophomore from Brazil studying Political Science and Literary Arts.