The City of Orlando heard over an hour of public comments at Thursday’s city council meeting on a new ordinance that would eventually require businesses to document their energy and water use, in the interest of being more sustainable. The end result, after numerous complaints by concerned residents, was a tabling of the issue until next month, with an eye toward bettering the ordinance and fine-tuning its flaws.
The ordinance in question is a Building Energy Benchmarking Program, which would put into place a system where certain large buildings over 50,000 square feet have to chronicle and eventually make public their energy and water use. Sharing that information will lead to better management of national resources and assist in making cost-effective efficiency investments.
That, the city says, will reduce air pollutant emissions from burning fossil fuels, reduce operating costs, improve indoor comfort, and provide resiliency against drought.
The ordinance is fairly lenient, according to Mayor Buddy Dyer, starting off soft by not requiring businesses to make their stats public until late 2018. Then, starting in 2020, those businesses that scored too low will have energy audits done to assess what they can be doing better. The energy audits would include identifying how buildings’ systems could be altered or what equipment was needed to make them more energy efficient.
At first, the reactions from speakers at Thursday’s meeting were positive. Soil and Water Conservation Chair Eric Rollings and Yulissa Arce with Organize Now praised the city for its forward thinking on keeping the city green and pushing pro-environmental values.
“Everyone wants Orlando to be the most sustainable and competitive city possible,” Rollings said. “We can’t predict the future. Orlando is growing fast, and there is a lot of resources that need to be conserved.”
“Organize Now has a strong support for this strategy,” Arce said. “It’s the first of hopefully many to improve climate change and reduce energy and water use and create sustainable jobs. Communities of color, which Organize Now represents, are the ones most affected by climate change. This will help achieve a dream of sustainability. We cannot continue to do business as usual, we must be bold and pass ordinances that have teeth to them to accentuate visions and dreams.”
Others in support were representatives from Green Link Group, Energy Florida, the League of Women Voters, and many more.
But then, as commenters continued to come and go, more critical opinions began to come out. Some people, such as The Mall at Millennia General Manager Steven Jamieson, criticized the ordinance for not being expansive enough — he said it should be a willing thing, rather than only restricted to buildings of a certain size. And in the Mall at Millennia, while the part of the mall Jamieson has control over would certainly be sustainable, he couldn’t promise the same for stores leasing space in the mall who do not have to abide by the ordinance.
So, he said, they should expand the ordinance’s scope.
And, he said, the fact that the city would fine those not in compliance up to $2,000 a year troubled him.
“We should be dangling a carrot,” he said. “Not wielding a stick.”
Others, such as Luci Smith with EastGroup Properties, worried about the ramifications of the fines the ordinance proposes on those buildings which do not participate in the benchmarking. Seeking exemptions, she said, could be cumbersome based on the city’s criteria. And she worried that when the stats were made public, they could be used to the advantage of brokers and investors.
After several more similar critiques, Commissioner Jim Gray motioned that the council table the issue until later when they could assess the problems with the ordinance and make it stronger, rather than rushing it through the process.
Dyer was initially resistant to that idea, saying it would be futile to put it off for too much later because there would be even more different opposition to it the next time they tried.
“This is as weak as you can get,” he said. “It’s two years before anybody has to do anything other than provide information. Then it’s more than five years; I might not be mayor anymore by the … first energy audit.”
But he did relent, saying they would set the issue for another hearing at an October city council meeting. Echoing one of the speakers earlier who’d taken issue with the ordinance, Dyer said it was important that they have the best ordinance possible, not just a pretty decent one rushed out.