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City Proposes More Efficient And Sustainable Buildings To Reduce Energy Use By 2030

Ariel Worthy
90.5 WESA
A plaque designating a building as LEED-certified, meaning the structure has acheived a level of energy efficiency.

The city of Pittsburgh wants to reduce its energy and water use by 50 percent by 2030. And new legislation proposed by Mayor Bill Peduto Tuesday offers one way to help do so: make city-owned buildings more energy efficient by setting a target of "net zero."

Net zero means the buildings would produce as much energy as they consume, a goal the city wants to achieve with any new and renovated building it owns. The measure was introduced in City Council on Tuesday morning: Council will next schedule a public hearing on the idea.  

In a statement, Peduto said this would be "one of the most meaningful and impactful actions" the city has ever taken. "It is not only the right move for the planet, but for the city’s budget too,” Peduto said. 

Renovations could include adding double-paned windows, insulation and LED lights to buildings. Grant Ervin, the city's Chief Resilience Officer, acknowledged that the new policy might increase the upfront cost of new construction and renovations. But, he said, there would be savings in the long run.

"In some cases you're going to see increases in cost because it's a lot of work that has to be done and you're playing catch-up," Ervin said. "In other cases, what we've really seen is this going to save money over the long-term operations of the building."  

The city has about 300 buildings, about half of which would be eligible for the net-zero target. Ervin said some of the buildings use more energy than others, like the City-County Building and fire stations. 

"The remainder of the portfolio are smaller properties like concession stands or salt domes," he said. "You won't see major ... impacts from a net zero project [on those properties]."  

Ervin said the city looks at how much it uses and pays for electricity, natural gas, sometimes steam and water. From there, officials look at the best technologies -- lighting, insulation, window updates -- and how they can make the building be more energy-efficient. Each renovation will be different, because each building has different needs. 

"You're never going to have enough solar panels to put on the City-County Building because of its electricity consumption," Ervin said. "But what we can start to do is look at different off-site energy procurement strategies.... A smaller facility, like a healthy active living center or a firehouse might be the right size to have an on-site renewable energy installation."