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Charting a Path for Energy Efficiency in MN Commercial Buildings


Wednesday, February 23, 2022   

Minnesota is in the process of adopting the latest standard for energy efficiency in commercial buildings.

There are calls for a specific approach supporters say can make structures healthier for their occupants, and reduce the energy burden in taller, multi-family housing. The state Department of Labor and Industry has said it expects a new standard later this year. In the meantime, Margaret Cherne-Hendrick, lead director of energy transition for the group Fresh Energy, urged policymakers, developers and contractors to ensure Minnesota doesn't fall behind in this area.

"We've made progress in drawing down emissions from the power sector and the transportation sector of the economy," she said, "but we really see an increase in emissions across the building sector."

Roughly 40% of U.S. energy use is in commercial and residential buildings. New standards can include improved ventilation and better-performing appliances. Aside from reducing emissions, backers have said it makes the indoor air cleaner and addresses rising energy costs. A legislative plan outlines the approach pushed by advocates, although there's some construction-industry pushback from those who oppose aggressive code updates.

As new rules are crafted, the department hopes to see a plan this legislative session to ensure each new edition of Minnesota's commercial energy code is at least 8% more efficient than the last one. Elizabeth Glidden, deputy executive director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership, said her group's research shows some developers are already moving in this direction, but new statewide requirements still are necessary.

"But what happens then is that we have an unevenness - where a market might be moving somewhere, but we're not really bringing everyone along," she said, "and this would be a way that we would be able to do that."

Glidden said this especially is important because people of color disproportionately live in areas zoned for multifamily housing. Higher energy bills and overall housing costs can limit a family's ability to thrive, she said, "and the more that you're spending on your housing, the less that you are able to spend on other necessities of life."

Disclosure: Fresh Energy contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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