With climate action stalled at the federal level in the United States, local and state governments across the country are filling the leadership void. And the emerging leaders aren’t just the big cities or blue-leaning states on the East and West Coasts.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson recently signed a law establishing a mandatory Building Energy Performance Standard in the city, which is the second-largest in Missouri. The new standard is the first building performance standard in the Midwest and just the fourth of its kind nationwide, following the adoption of similar standards in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Washington state.

Buildings are responsible for nearly 80 percent of St. Louis’ greenhouse gas emissions. The city will not achieve its goal of a 100 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 without aggressive action to decarbonize buildings.

The new standard applies to municipal, commercial, institutional and multifamily residential buildings 50,000 square feet and larger, which covers roughly 1,000 buildings in the city. The performance metric codified in the standard is energy use intensity — a site's energy use divided by its gross floor area — as calculated by Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager online tool.

Performance standards must be set for each building type by May 4, 2021, with the first compliance deadline coming in May 2025. The standard will be set to ensure that 65 percent of the buildings in each property type will have to save energy to comply with the law. The standards will be reviewed and updated every four years.

“We strongly believe that a [Building Energy Performance Standard] policy will provide significant impact in driving down our overall [greenhouse gas] emissions,” Rajiv Ravulapati, an analyst with the City of St. Louis Building Division, told Greentech Media in an email.

Building upon previous efficiency efforts in St. Louis

The new building performance standard is the latest in a series of moves to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in St. Louis.

The city launched a property-assessed clean energy financing program for commercial buildings in 2013. The program, which enables building owners to avoid the upfront costs to install energy-saving upgrades, with repayment tied to their property tax bill, was expanded to residential buildings in 2017.

In St. Louis, as was the case in New York City and Washington, D.C., benchmarking requirements predated a building performance standard. By requiring owners of large buildings to document and disclose performance metrics such as energy and water usage or greenhouse gas emissions each year, benchmarking laws make it possible to track performance over time, to identify underperforming buildings in a portfolio and to compare a building’s performance to its peers. St. Louis’ benchmarking law, which took effect in 2017, also applies to buildings 50,000 square feet and larger.

In 2018 St. Louis was one of 25 U.S. cities selected to participate in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge. Under the two-year program, Bloomberg Philanthropies provides cities with technical support, as well as a staffer funded by the organization, to assist with the development of carbon-reduction initiatives.

Initiatives on St. Louis’ list included the adoption of the Building Energy Performance Standard as well as a solar-ready requirement for new construction. Mayor Krewson signed legislation making St. Louis the first Midwestern city to pass a solar-ready ordinance in December 2019.

Putting the Building Energy Performance Standard to work

The newly created Office of Building Performance, to be housed within the City of St. Louis’ Building Division, is responsible for overseeing implementation, compliance and enforcement of the Building Energy Performance Standard.

“This office will have dedicated staff to provide deeper technical assistance and engagement with building owners to help them meet their respective standard,” said Ravulapati.

Additional technical work under the law will be performed by the new Building Energy Improvement Board, a nine-member advisory body appointed by the mayor comprising energy industry, building-design and engineering experts.

The board’s responsibilities include establishing energy performance standards for each class of building for each four-year compliance cycle and reviewing alternate compliance plans submitted by building owners.

Board Bill 219 grants building owners the flexibility to pursue customized plans to achieve their mandatory energy performance targets.

“Rather than relying on lists of prescriptive measures, which are not guaranteed to achieve estimated levels of savings, the Board enables the city to approve custom compliance paths that take into consideration the unique conditions of each building,” the Institute for Market Transformation’s Cliff Majersik and Jessica Miller wrote in a blog post.

“This is a first for a [building performance standard] ordinance and could be an exciting model for other cities," Majersik and Miller wrote.

The law was also written to encourage building owners to undertake deep energy retrofits.