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Office Buildings Impact Emissions Too; MN Wants to Address That

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Thursday, December 16, 2021   

MINNEAPOLIS -- Industrial settings and crowded highways are often associated with calls to reduce harmful carbon emissions, but what about a typical commercial building?

In Minnesota, there is a legislative push to enhance standards for new construction. Various levels of government, utilities and even some corporations have made pledges to achieve net-zero emissions in the coming years.

Some clean energy advocates say to get there, commercial buildings, such as skyscrapers and strip malls, need to do their part.

Rick Carter, CEO of Minnesota-based LHB Corporation, which designs buildings with sustainability in mind, feels a stronger code for new development is key.

"When our engineers and architects are working on a problem, whether it's a renovation or a new building, they're dealing with 40% of the total greenhouse-gas emissions in Minnesota," Carter explained. "Most of that comes from the generation of electricity."

Combined, commercial buildings and residential structures account for 40% of the nation's energy use.

The bill, introduced last spring and expected to be debated next session, calls for a net-zero energy standard by 2036 for new commercial property.

Bill sponsors see obstacles in the Senate, with questions over how it would impact the construction costs.

Richard Graves, associate professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Building Research at the University of Minnesota, said enhanced standards would pay off in the long run, and are less expensive for new construction. He pointed out it goes beyond adding LED lighting and improving insulation. For example, he suggested switching from natural gas to electric-based heating and cooling would be effective.

"Heat pumps are much more cost-effective and work better in our climate than they did just a few years ago," Graves emphasized.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, is the bill's sponsor in the Senate. He said there have been suggested amendments, such as making this optional for local governments, but he acknowledged there are calls from others, including the construction side, to press forward a statewide standard.

"A lot of thoughtful people have put some, some ideas into this," Senjem remarked. "And we want to try to get there if we can."

The effort comes as Minnesota struggles to reach broader greenhouse-gas emissions goals, including a 30% reduction by the year 2025. So far, the state has only seen an 8% reduction. Since 2005, there's been a 15% increase in emissions in the commercial sector.


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