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City Of Pittsburgh Buildings Use A Lot Of Energy, Something Officials Are Eager To Change

Kathleen J. Davis
90.5 WESA
The interior courtyard of the City County Building. A new analysis finds the building is the city's biggest energy user, and a prime suspect for retrofits.

The City of Pittsburgh spent $2.7 million on heating, cooling and water consumption in 2017, according to a report released Thursday. An energy use analysis will be released annually as the city works to meet its climate goals.

Pittsburgh’s Climate Action Plan aims to cut city-wide carbon emissions and energy use in half by 2030. To help reach that goal, Council passed an ordinance in 2016 that requires all non-residential buildings over 50,000 square feet to share that data.

The law only affected four city-maintained buildings, but officials decided to look at all 154 in order to be transparent with taxpayers and lead the way in the reporting initiative, said Grant Ervin, Pittsburgh’s chief resilience officer.

“It’s about … improving operations over time,” he said. “Understanding what those consumption patterns are allows us to have a good insight in terms of making improved capital and operating decisions."

Changes could include anything from buying electricity from renewable sources and better insulating buildings to replacing cooking equipment in fire halls with more efficient models.

The City County Building on Grant Street is the biggest energy user by far. The upside of discovering just how energy-hungry buildings are is that there’s plenty of room for improvement, said Ervin.

Pittsburgh is one of a growing number of cities to pass energy use disclosure ordinances in recent years. Ervin estimated that roughly half the buildings required to comply with the law have done so. There’s no penalty for failing to disclose the information, but Ervin anticipates continued information-sharing as owners see lower bills and learn about opportunities to get financial help in making retrofits.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.