Denver adopts emission standards for commercial, multifamily buildings

Denver forces office and apartment owners to cut greenhouse gas emissions

The roof of the Circa Building is covered by solar panels in 2018. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Owners of multifamily and commercial buildings in Denver will soon be required to significantly cut their properties’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The Denver City Council last Monday adopted a series of recommendations from a task force aimed at cutting pollution from multifamily and commercial buildings. The city says 49 percent of all greenhouse gasses come from such buildings.

“While this doesn’t achieve the task force goal, it achieves as much as the task force feels is reasonable and achievable for building owners and managers in Denver,” a report from the Energize Denver Task Force stated. “The city should continue to investigate how to close the gap.”

The task force stated in its recommendations that commercial and multifamily buildings need to reduce their emissions by 80 percent to bring them closer to “net-zero” energy by 2040. Denver’s definition of a net-zero energy building is one that is “highly” energy-efficient, powered by renewable electricity and provides energy to the grid, such as with solar panels.

But the council adopted recommendations with earlier deadlines, some by 2023 to 2030, to have the buildings reduce energy usage and change appliances to renewable energy-powered or low-emission products.

Buildings will be assessed from a baseline of what their overall greenhouse gas emissions were in 2019 to get all commercial and multifamily structures to reduce emissions 30 percent by 2030. After that year, new standards could be set to further reduce emissions.

New buildings must follow the standards as well. The task force worked from January through August to develop the recommendations.

Buildings more than 5,000 square feet and less than 25,000 square feet will be able to substitute certain changes to meet their energy efficiency goals, such as installing LED lighting and solar panels. Depending on the building’s size, owners will have to meet their energy goals between 2025 and 2027.

Owners of buildings 25,000 square feet or greater will have to report their emissions reduction on a three-year basis to ensure they are meeting the set goals.

For buildings larger than 25,000 square feet, the task force said the city’s Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency office will develop certain extensions or alterations for meeting those deadlines, such as for manufacturers.

Additional requirements are for commercial and multifamily buildings to use a phased approach in changing water and space heating devices that use fossil fuels to electric appliances by 2030, but the first phase would begin in 2025.

By 2023, replacement of natural gas-fired space and water heating equipment in the buildings has to be approved by the city’s Community Planning and Development Department. Starting in  2025, as primary water heaters need replacing, they must be replaced with electric appliances.

According to Denver code, all buildings larger than 25,000 square feet must report their energy performance. The city publishes the data on an online map at www.energizedenver.org. All eligible buildings would have to comply with reporting by 2030.

The city’s existing greenhouse gas emissions ordinance has seen greater than 90 percent compliance every year since it was passed in 2016. But Denver is still not on track to reach its emission reduction goals, according to the task force.

According to the ordinance, the city will offer incentives for owners to do cost analyses for replacements, make permitting processes for replacements easier and install heat pumps when necessary.

Building owners who have difficulty coming into compliance could receive help from the city, as there are some exemptions to keep the costs low for upgrading certain properties so they don’t burden owners or tenants.

Those efforts will be funded by a sales tax already approved by voters to help Denver reach its climate goals that brings in up to $40 million annually.

Building owners who do not comply with the new regulations will face a fine of 70 cents per year for each required British thermal unit used that year above the target reduction.

Denver is also expected to change emission standards for industrial and manufacturing buildings by requiring electrification.

Denver forces office and apartment owners to cut greenhouse gas emissions

The roof of the Circa Building is covered by solar panels in 2018. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Office and apartment building owners will have to cut greenhouse gas emissions and use more renewable energy-powered appliances.

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