The City of Minneapolis’ Progress Towards Energy Efficiency and Green Building

Minneapolis, MN

MEEA is continuing its blog series to highlight Midwest communities using energy efficiency to progress their climate goals. The next city in the series is Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Between 2012 and 2013, the Minneapolis Sustainability Office led a coalition of public, private, non-profit and community partners to draft the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan (CAP). The final plan, adopted by City Council in June 2013, guides Minneapolis toward its greenhouse gas reduction targets of reducing community-wide emissions 15% by 2015, 30% by 2025 and 80% by 2050, using 2006 as a baseline. To achieve these goals, the CAP is broken down into three key sectors, including one for Buildings and Energy.

Through its CAP, the city recognized early on that tackling building energy use would need to be a top priority if carbon reduction goals were to be met. Energy use in commercial and residential buildings (primarily from heating and cooling) was the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Minneapolis in 2010, representing 65% of the total. The Buildings and Energy section of the CAP creates four goals specific to energy use in buildings: 1) achieve 15% energy efficiency improvement in residential buildings from the growth baseline by 2025; 2) achieve 20% energy efficiency improvement in commercial/industrial buildings from the growth baseline by 2025; 3) increase electricity from local and directly purchased renewables to 10% of the total consumed by 2025; and 4) achieve a 1.5% annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from City facilities. Together, these targets have helped the city implement many different programs, policies and ordinances aimed at building energy use.

What Minneapolis is Currently Doing

The city of Minneapolis has made significant progress toward its emissions and energy efficiency goals since adopting its first climate action plan. For example, greenhouse gas emissions from citywide activities have decreased 32% compared to 2006 levels. Below are some of the programs and policies implemented by the city since 2013.

In February 2013, the Minneapolis City Council adopted Ordinance 47.190, requiring commercial buildings 50,000 square feet and over and city-owned buildings 25,000 square feet and over to annually benchmark their energy consumption and report this information to the city. The Commercial Benchmarking Ordinance, which is implemented through the city’s health department, allows building owners and the city to track energy and water usage year to year. This in turn helps the city determine opportunities for improvement, recognize high performers and determine progress towards the city’s CAP goals.

The city also launched the Green Cost Share Program in 2013 to incentivize residents (through matching funds) to complete solar, energy efficiency or emissions reduction projects. Over the years, emphasis has increased on environmental justice. For example, the city has higher incentives and prioritizes projects in Green Zones, Great Street Eligible Priority Areas, income-qualified housing and buildings damaged amid the civil unrest of 2020. In 2021, 313 projects went through the program (nearly 100 more than in 2020) due to additional funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. About 1,700 low-income properties benefited from solar energy and energy efficiency – almost twice the total number of income-qualified units from all previous years. And finally, more than half of the projects in 2021 were considered environmental justice projects, receiving 71% of program funding.

The Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership, created in October 2014 to help achieve the city’s clean energy goals, is a partnership between the city and its electric and natural gas utilities, Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy. It creates a collaborative framework through which the city and utilities can plan, implement, market, track and report progress on clean energy activities within the city. The Partnership is led by a joint city/utility board that reviews and approves two-year work plans, which guide the work of the Partnership and educate Minneapolis residents and businesses about how to participate in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. The Energy Vision Advisory Committee (EVAC), a citizen committee selected by the Partnership board, is charged with 1) reviewing and providing feedback on the work plans and measurement and performance reports, 2) giving feedback on special initiatives as requested by the board and 3) communicating to members’ respective constituencies about EVAC’s and the board’s decisions and activities. Ultimately, the Partnership helps the city accomplish its CAP goals and increase community engagement.  

Minneapolis began its 4d Affordable Housing Program in May 2018 to preserve unsubsidized affordable housing in Minneapolis. Through the program, the city offers a robust package of incentives for rental property owners to reduce property tax liability, improve energy efficiency and address conditions of aging buildings. In exchange, property owners commit to keep at least 20% of units rented at or below 60% of area median income. The primary goal of the program is to preserve affordability, reduce energy use and enhance healthy homes to support tenants and strengthen the bottom line for property owners. A secondary goal is to support market rate new construction development projects, including those that exceed the city’s minimum affordability requirements.

In February 2019, the Minneapolis City Council approved three policies to enhance residential energy awareness: multifamily benchmarking, time-of-rent energy disclosure and time-of-sale energy disclosure. The residential benchmarking policy extended the existing commercial benchmarking ordinance to cover multifamily buildings 50,000 square feet and greater, and it requires an energy evaluation of properties with high savings potential. This policy not only helps Minneapolis achieve its climate goals and maximize limited financial resources, but it is also essential to understanding exactly how much energy residential buildings use and which properties may benefit most from efficiency programs.

The time-of-rent energy disclosure policy requires rental property owners to disclose energy use at the time of rent. This policy is particularly important as renters comprise more than half of Minneapolis’ population. By requiring landlords to provide average per-unit energy use at the time of lease, renters have upfront insight into the actual total housing costs of a given building. It also creates an implicit incentive for building owners to make energy efficiency upgrades that lower utility bills. Understanding energy costs at the time of rent can ultimately protect low-income households from unexpected increases in total housing costs.

Similarly, the time-of-sale energy disclosure policy requires that energy efficiency information (including insulation and HVAC equipment efficiency) be included in “Truth in Sale of Housing” inspections. Time-of-sale energy disclosure promotes energy awareness among residents and allows the city to track residential efficiency, but perhaps most importantly, the energy information provided helps inform the market of the total cost of ownership and encourages sellers to pursue energy efficiency upgrades to give themselves a market advantage.

Finally, Minneapolis is in the process of implementing its Sustainable Building Policy, a comprehensive standard of requirements for all buildings that are owned, operated or leased by the city for municipal operations. In addition to achieving overall building LEED Gold certification, the policy establishes requirements for certain sustainable building overlay criteria such as energy, water, resilience, equity and indoor environmental quality. This approach will incrementally increase energy conservation and reduce carbon, resulting in net-zero-energy, carbon-neutral buildings by 2030. Moreover, while the policy fulfills environmental criteria, it also prioritizes the health, wealth and daily well-being of Minneapolis communities, beginning with communities of color and the city’s Green Zones. To this extent, all projects within the policy incorporate elements of community engagement, workforce and community wealth development, and environmental worksheet assessments.

As mentioned above, Minneapolis has made great strides towards its CAP goals through these various programs and policies, and shows no signs of stopping.