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St. Louis’ new building energy standards find 65% of big buildings noncompliant

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Maria Altman
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St. Louis Public Radio
Both new and existing buildings larger than 50,000 square feet in St. Louis must now hit energy performance standards -- or face sizable fines.

In the coming weeks, building owners across St. Louis will receive letters from City Hall, warning them about new standards that could have a big impact on them.

The letters are set to come from St. Louis’ Office of Building Performance. An individualized version will be sent to the owner of record for most buildings in the city with 50,000 or more square feet — putting each owner on notice as to whether their building is on track to achieve the city’s new building energy performance standards. Anyone who doesn’t hit the goals by their designated deadline (May 2027 for houses of worship and affordable housing, May 2025 for just about everybody else) could face fines of up to $500 per day.

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Emily Woodbury
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St. Louis Public Radio
Cara Spencer, left, and Katarina Michalova are both offering resources to help building owners reach compliance.

The city’s Board of Aldermen passed the building energy standards with little fanfare in April 2020 with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They went into effect a year later, making St. Louis the first Midwestern city to levy such requirements. Approximately 800 buildings in the city fall under the new rules, said Katarina Michalova, the interim program manager for the city’s new Office of Building Performance.

Those owners would be wise to pay attention, Michalova said. “We are [in the] first year into reporting data where it matters a lot,” she said. And if buildings don’t hit the minimum standards by the end of the reporting period, the city can go so far as to pull their occupancy permits.

Listen to Cara Spencer and Katarina Michalova on St. Louis on the Air

The majority are not in compliance. Alderwoman Cara Spencer, who has taken a new job as director of the Building Energy Exchange St. Louis, explained on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air that 65% will need to make changes to hit the new standards.

“That sounds scary,” she acknowledged. “But really, the reality is most of these investments make a lot of financial sense for the bottom line of the property owner.”

It’s Spencer’s task now to help them see how. Set up by the Missouri Gateway chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, the Building Energy Exchange St. Louis, or BE-Ex STL, aims to support developers and building owners as they work to reduce their building’s greenhouse gas emissions and achieve compliance. It’s part of a national effort as performance standards get rolled out by cities across the U.S.

Spencer said the exchange will function as a clearinghouse, offering one-stop shopping for information about incentive programs and even technology to reduce energy consumption. The city also offers resources on its website, stlbenchmarking.com.

Michalova said St. Louis is far from the most demanding. Washington, D.C., and Denver both put their standards on buildings of 20,000 square feet and bigger. San Francisco goes all the way down to 10,000.

And lest anyone think these new standards are impossible, Spencer pointed out that City Hall — a giant citadel of a building first opened in 1890 — has coasted to compliance.

Best of all, she said, the investment the city made in technology upgrades using low-interest loans is already paying for itself. “That investment of $1.4 million returned $435,000 in annual savings on the energy bills,” she said. “The payback was less than three years.”

Spencer sees a lesson there for anyone despairing over the new guidelines and suggests they contact the exchange to learn more. “I view this as an incredible opportunity for all of us to not only save money, make our buildings healthier, but make them function better for the bottom line of property owners,” she said.

Related Event

What: Building Energy Exchange St. Louis official launch
When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. March 23
Where: Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63112

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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