February 3, 2015 | Katie Weeks

For nearly two decades, every February my family would meet up in the Salt Lake City airport, cram into a rented minivan, and head north into the Wasatch Mountain range for a weekend of skiing in a winter wonderland. Naturally, I equated winter in Utah with peak ski season. What I didn’t know, however, is that winter is also peak season for another natural wonder—one that isn’t so enjoyable.

Winter, it turns out, is also peak inversion season in the Great Salt Lake region. Salt Lake City sits in a valley where normal atmospheric conditions feature warm air in the valley and cool air above in the mountain range. From December to February, however, this condition can become inverted when a high pressure system over the Wasatch Mountains compresses cold air down into the valley. Without wind to keep the systems moving, the warm air traps the cool air in the valley. During prolonged inversions, the trapped cold air can turn into smog and lead to high levels of fine particulate pollution, raising health and air quality concerns.

Residential and commercial buildings account for nearly 40 percent of the pollutants that affect air quality on winter inversion days. Recognizing this, the City is committed to improving building energy efficiency as a strategy to reduce pollution and improve air quality.

Last year Salt Lake City signed on as one of 10 pioneering cities addressing building energy use through the City Energy Project, a joint initiative of IMT and the Natural Resources Defense Council. In addition, last May, Mayor Ralph Becker launched Project Skyline, a program that focuses cutting energy waste to improve air quality. In kicking off Project Skyline, Mayor Becker challenged local businesses to reduce their energy use to proactively meet and exceed the air quality and energy-saving targets of Sustainable Salt Lake – Plan 2015, a blueprint to improve livability and sustainability in the City.

Now, a new Executive Order issued by Mayor Becker today ensures that the City will continue to lead by example. Focusing on the comprehensive energy management of Salt Lake City-owned and operated facilities, the Executive Order emphasizes the evaluation and implementation of energy-related best practices. Under the Order, each department—which, at minimum, includes the Airport, Public Services, and Public Utilities—must create an energy management plan that identifies energy-related opportunities, as well as near- and long-term strategies to capture potential savings. Key components that must be addressed include:

  • Annual benchmarking of energy consumption and public transparency regarding energy performance information.
  • The identification and documentation of energy-saving opportunities through the establishment of an energy audit program or other protocols that can prioritize projects every five years.
  • The development of guidelines and a retrocommissioning and re-tuning plan that ensures that building systems are consistently operating efficiently.
  • The creation of guidelines for building operator energy management training. As of December 31, 2015, all City facilities should be operated by, or under the supervision, of a certified building operator.
  • The development of employee engagement strategies to ensure that City employees are aware of energy-saving goals and are engaged in activities to reach these targets
  • The exploration of renewable energy opportunities that can be used to offset the energy impacts of municipal operations.

In addition to the energy management plans, the Executive Order calls for the formation of an Energy Management Steering Committee to develop rules and templates regarding compliance, to assist City departments with compliance, and to share best practices across departments.

Research shows that the practices outlined in Mayor Becker’s new Executive Order can reap numerous benefits and vast savings and, perhaps more importantly, can create a continuous cycle of improvement both within individual buildings and in the larger market. On the micro scale, as building operators increase their awareness and understanding of how their facilities are using energy through practices such as benchmarking and retrocommissioning, they can better identify strategies to increase performance and savings. Employing tactics such as annual energy audits ensures that the baseline is consistently monitored and, as efficiency increases the baseline will, too–raising the bar for future performance improvements.

On the macro scale, making a building’s performance data, such as an ENERGY STAR score, transparent to the public encourages the private sector to learn about how products and practices influence a building’s energy performance and encourages building owners and operators to follow the City’s lead in implementing strategies such as benchmarking , retrocommissioning, and energy audits to improve the performance of their own properties. On top of all this, there are also the air quality benefits brought about by reducing harmful emissions by slashing building energy waste—something that with benefit both the City and all local residents.

Congratulations to Mayor Becker and Salt Lake City on taking this next step forward to a more efficient and healthier future.


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Meet the Author

Katie Weeks

Former Managing Director of Development and Communications

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