Texas making energy efficiency progress, despite Energy Star ratings

 Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their 2009 annual report ranking the top 25 cities with the most Energy Star buildings. Only three Texas cities made the list, but the rankings don’t illustrate the energy efficiency strides some Texas cities have made, nor what opportunities still remain for improvement.

What it means to be an Energy Star building
Energy Star buildings must score in the top 25 percent of EPA’s National Energy Performance Rating System. Nearly 4,000 commercial buildings earned an Energy Star rating in 2009, resulting in savings of nearly $1 billion in utility bills and more than 4.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. 

Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin make the cut
Just three Texas cities made the Energy star list this year. Houston ranked 6th (down from 3rd), Dallas-Fort Worth ranked 8th (down from 5th) and Austin ranged 18th (down from 13th). San Antonio ranked 16th last year, but didn’t even make the cut this year.

So how can eco-friendly Austin rank behind Detroit, Michigan and Lakeland, Florida? The bottom line is that Energy Star is a good program with tangible results, but it doesn’t tell the whole story about energy efficiency in buildings.

Many Texas cities are efficient, even without Energy Star rating
One reason Texas cities don’t rank higher on the Energy Star list lies in the metric the EPA has chosen. The agency simply lists the number of Energy Star-labeled commercial buildings that a city has. While this is great marketing for the Energy Star brand, there are a lot of important things happening in Texas that this list overlooks.

  • Austin Energy’s Green Building Program was one of the first green building programs in the country and was used as an early model for the national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
  • Many cities have adopted more stringent building codes than what the state requires, which are almost ten years old. Cities like San Antonio and Waco have adopted newer codes developed in 2009, and Dallas and Houston have adopted equivalent codes. Addison, Austin, Arlington, Lewisville, McAllen, San Marcos and Sugar Land are also planning to adopt similar codes. League City is even making plans to adopt the codes that are being developed for 2012!
  • Texas’ State Energy Conservation Office has initiated a rulemaking process to raise the minimum statewide code to those developed in 2009. Comments on this proposed rule are due by April 26th.

Efficiency of existing buildings is still greatest challenge
With all this great progress on new buildings in Texas and across the nation, we can’t afford to ignore the fact that nearly half of all the energy in the U.S. is used by existing commercial, industrial and residential buildings. Texas’ greatest challenge – and opportunity – lies in improving efficiency in this area, so stay tuned for future posts on this topic.

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  1. Namrita Kapur
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Kate, I’m so glad you clarified the “Beyond Energy Star” side of the story of what is happening among Texas cities.

    I look forward to learning more in your future post about the challenge of addressing existing building stock, which came up in the Harvard Business School Energy, Environment & Business Think Tank that I blogged about here:


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