Building owner frets over new emissions standards

Denver's new emissions reduction rules worry building owner

Rockmount Ranch Wear owner Steve Weil stands at the entrance to his building at 1626 Wazee St. (Eric Heinz photos)

Steve Weil is concerned.

The president of Rockmount Ranch Wear, a western apparel manufacturer and retailer in downtown Denver, also owns its building at 1626 Wazee St.

Rockmount operates in four of five floors of the 30,000-square-foot building, which Weil said dates to 1909, with tenants in the remaining one.

The Rockmount building on Wazee was given an EnergyStar score of 93 out of 100 last year, ranking fourth out of 149 similar buildings in Denver.

Weil said that in recent years, he’s installed solar panels on the roof and energy-efficient lighting and windows.

But he’s concerned about new emissions standards Denver adopted for commercial and multifamily buildings, which seek to cut those buildings’ emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

“My issue remains that the city sounds heavy-handed in their tone about the draconian mandates and burdens they are placing on every home and building,” Weil said. “Simply put, they have repeatedly made clear they intend to do away with natural gas heating and stoves.”

The Rockmount owner said he does not want the city to completely abandon natural gas usage for a number of reasons.

Weil said restaurants will still want to use natural gas for cooking, and that he thinks going to an all-electric grid would put the city at risk for major power outages during severe storms. He also noted that natural gas is used to generate electricity.

“It’s very dangerous to convert our source of energy to one source only, i.e. the electrical grid,” Weil said. “It is simply incoherent to outlaw private buildings from using gas when the utilities will be generating electricity from gas.”

Weil said as part of building renovations in 2005, he spent $50,000 on a new boiler that was more efficient and uses natural gas.

But purchases like that will soon be a thing of the past. The city’s new standards require that, starting in 2025, as primary building heating sources are replaced, they be replaced with an electric system.

Weil will be able to keep using his natural gas system until it needs to be replaced, likely in 15 years or more. But he said, at this time, he doesn’t think there’s a “feasible” way to convert his building.

Weil said he’s concerned he will have to make more improvements to reduce energy use — and that those improvements could be costly.

The uncertainty stems partially from the fact that, while Denver has adopted an overall plan to reduce building emissions, property owners still don’t know what that means for their specific structures.

All commercial and multi-family buildings 5,000 square feet and larger in Denver must reduce their combined energy usage by 30 percent by 2030, according to the new ordinance. Buildings larger than 25,000 square feet must meet reduction targets by 2024, 2027 and 2030, but each building will have a different target based on their energy efficiency.

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The owner of Rockmount Ranch Wear at 1626 Wazee St. says he has made various improvements to his building to reduce its emissions, but he’s worried the city’s new regulations could cost him more money.

Weil said he does not want to have to make the same adjustments to his 30,000-square-foot building as one that is 200,000 square feet. He also said he doesn’t think the city should abandon its natural gas infrastructure, as it may be needed in emergencies and other businesses rely on it.

The rules on how the city will assess a building’s energy use are largely still being written. Although the City Council adopted the broad goals for reducing energy use, the details will continue to be discussed by the Energize Denver Task Force.

A remote meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday to be hosted by the city’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency, where the office will discuss the draft rules for the building emissions standards.

Lori Pace, the founder of Changing Paces and a real estate consultant, is a member of the Energize Denver Task Force who said her focus is to ensure poorer neighborhoods are able to reach the emissions targets as easily as wealthier neighborhoods.

“We’re creating toolkits to make sure the people who can afford to do it (will) do it,” Pace said. “There are lots of grants and tools out there, but our job, the city of Denver, has to make sure that this is not just stuck in a file, that we are holding people accountable.”

Pace said when it comes to assessing what each building owner will have to pay to comply with the new rules, it will depend on each individual building’s need.

“It’s kind of a moving target, and we need to find incentives that are realistic,” Pace said.

Because of the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, “we would be naïve to think these goals would be easily met because there’s a lack of income coming in,” she added.

Katrina Managan, a Denver city buildings team lead working with the task force, said buildings will be assessed individually and given a certain emission-reduction target. She said the task force will continue to work on how those goals could be met.

“There will be opportunities for stakeholders to give us input on how economic hardship should be defined before it actually (becomes law),” Managan said. “There’s broad parameters in the ordinance, but there are a lot of details that we will be writing.”

Managan said for buildings that are already performing well, owners may not have to make as many changes, or if they’ve made energy improvements to the building, such as installing solar panels, they will receive credits toward their emissions goals.

“Folks need to really start planning and understanding what this means for them and understand if they need to make some improvements or think about an alternate compliance path,” Managan said. “If they don’t make improvements, then we’ll have lots of resources for them on how to kind of assess what their path should be.”

Managan said the rulemaking process for the building emissions ordinance will be finalized in January, with compliance notices going out in March to property owners with multifamily and commercial buildings greater than 5,000 square feet.

Correction: Rockmount uses four floors of the building; a previous version had an incorrect figure. The story has also been updated to note the year Weil said the building was constructed, which is different from the year included in city property records.

Denver's new emissions reduction rules worry building owner

Rockmount Ranch Wear owner Steve Weil stands at the entrance to his building at 1626 Wazee St. (Eric Heinz photos)

Steve Weil installed solar panels and energy-efficient lighting and windows at 1626 Wazee St. but he’s worried about possible future costs to meet Denver’s requirements.

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