Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Members of a local energy-efficiency initiative collectively reduced their carbon impact by more than 10,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016, according to an annual report from San Antonio 2030 District, which is leading the effort.
The initiative, led mostly by private-sector businesses such as downtown building owners, aims to achieve a 50% reduction in energy consumption by 2030.
Addressing district members last week, SA 2030 District Director Elizabeth Kertesz said that the group's members together recorded a 22% drop in energy use intensity (EUI). The district uses the EPA's Energy Star Portfolio Manager as a measurement tool.
The energy savings recorded by district members in 2016 is the equivalent of removing 2,168 vehicles from the road for one year, according to the district's report. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said that buildings – office spaces, apartment complexes, and hospitals, for example – are responsible for almost 45% of carbon dioxide emissions nationwide.
Kertesz said district members are making solid progress in improving water, energy, and transportation-related efficiencies at their properties. Members use the Portfolio Manager to enter and maintain monthly energy use, and that data is compared with similar buildings in the area. Using the tool helps members to better track their energy consumption and identify causes of waste.
“It helps them to catch outliers and other things that don’t make sense,” Kertesz said.
Aside from saving money and decreasing their carbon impact, other benefits of improved building performance include better health and comfort for occupants, a higher productivity rate among occupants, and increased property values, Kertesz said.
San Antonio 2030 District arranges forums, building tours, and other opportunities for members to network and access technologies, services, and products that could help them to enhance the energy efficiency of their properties.
“Property owners get to share their information about things like smart building technology,” Kertesz said. “Part of our role is to provide education.”
San Antonio 2030 District encompasses the entire downtown business district, including the Pearl area, parts of the near Westside, and much of Southtown toward Interstate 10.
The district involves more than 8 million committed square feet among 80 member structures. There are more than 40 property owner/manager companies and institutions, and professional and community stakeholders.
Kertesz said the local district has plenty of room – literally and figuratively – for membership growth. The district also plans to look at revising its boundary.
The district is guided by a Leadership Advisory Council, made up of 13 representatives of member organizations and companies.
Kertesz said the council has been helpful with different things, such as networking with potential new members.
“We have a lot of prospective members we’re approaching,” Kertesz added.
Lake Flato Architects’ Sustainability Director, Heather Holdridge, said joining the district was a natural move for her firm. Lake Flato adopted an architecture industry challenge to make all new buildings, developments, and major renovations carbon-neutral by 2030, and is taking part in net-zero designs, which means designing buildings that produce and consume equal amounts of energy.
“We had already been interested in these things that move us toward a carbon-neutral future,” said Holdridge, also a leadership council member.
Another member, AREA Real Estate, led the redevelopment of the nearly century-old Maverick building into one of the newest downtown apartment communities. AREA began talking with San Antonio 2030 District in the middle of the Maverick's restoration, obtaining information about best practices from the group's members.
Luis Miguel Martinez, AREA's urban development manager, said that from the beginning there was a concerted effort to focus on energy efficiency at the Maverick, including low-impact building materials, LED lighting, and a Nest thermostat in every unit.
Martinez said that AREA is happy to see an increasing number of organizations, from District 2030 and the City to utilities and the private sector, going to greater lengths to focus on and provide incentives for energy efficiency.
"These organizations really help to bring important information," he said. "The needs of every development are so different."
District member Weston Properties retained Austin firm Blue Ocean Energy Management to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy costs at the Weston Centre, San Antonio's tallest office building. Over the next 12 months, the 32-story building reduced its energy consumption by almost 25% simply by making its operations more energy efficient, Weston Properties President Mona Ghawi said.
"No capital expenditure on replacing equipment took place during this period," she said.
USAA Real Estate, another member, is optimizing performance at two of its downtown buildings, One Riverwalk Place and the newly acquired Bank of America Plaza, and properties elsewhere through an array of energy efficiencies and sustainable measures.
“It’s rewarding to see the impact we have made by prioritizing sustainable, energy-efficient operations throughout our portfolio,” said company President and CEO Len O’Donnell in USAA Real Estate’s 2016 sustainability report.
“A win-win approach as our tenants express their satisfaction about working in environmentally responsible settings, and our partners enjoy the value created by improved financial performance.”
Another member, San Antonio River Authority, is encouraging downtown property owners to implement low-impact development (LID) practices to reduce and filter stormwater runoff.
"We all know the importance of conserving and being good stewards of our energy and water resources," said Steve Graham, assistant general manager and council member. "As a matter of fact, water and energy are interrelated in what's known as the 'energy-water nexus.'"
"Less known but also important in the San Antonio 2030 District is the interrelationships between stormwater [and] green infrastructure, and air quality and the urban heat island."
South-central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource (SPEER) is the umbrella organization for the San Antonio 2030 District, providing it with monetary sponsorship and technical aid. There are 17 2030 districts nationwide, including Austin and Dallas.
SPEER will soon start coordinating with local and regional groups to collect data and develop a baseline and metrics for transportation emissions.
Kertesz said she hopes Bexar County will adopt the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which allows property owners to obtain low-interest loans to pay for energy-efficiency measures. The energy cost savings must exceed the loan cost, and the loan stays with the property.
Kertesz said some building owners may feel reluctant to spend money on energy conservation measures partially for fear that they may end up selling their property sooner than later. “This breaks down the disincentive,” Kertesz said.
PACE has been adopted in 12 Texas counties, and 10 Texas PACE projects have been completed so far.