SOUTH PORTLAND — Some business owners and future residents of the Mill Creek commercial area would be required to report their annual utility use under a proposed ordinance that aims to implement part of a new master plan.

The proposed Energy & Water Use Benchmarking ordinance would be the first of its kind in Maine and is modeled after similar laws passed by at least 20 cities across the United States. It’s part of the city’s overall effort to reduce energy use and increase environmental sustainability under a climate action plan approved in 2014.

Utility benchmarking – a technical term for tallying and comparing similar things – is a process promoted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through its voluntary Energy Star efficiency program.

The city would track the utility performances of larger commercial and residential properties through the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager, a website tool that allows users to compare energy use, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of similar buildings nationwide.

The ordinance would apply to commercial buildings in the Mill Creek area with at least 5,000 square feet of gross floor area, which includes attics and basements. There are 30 such buildings now.

It also would apply to residential properties in the Mill Creek area with 10 units or more, of which there are currently none. And it would apply to about 23 municipal and school buildings citywide that have at least 5,000 square feet of gross floor area.

The city would start collecting utility data May 1, 2018, for the previous year and publish it on the municipal website, allowing building owners, tenants and others to compare the energy efficiency of targeted properties with similar structures across the United States.

“Creating this kind of information for the marketplace tends to encourage property owners to increase their efficiency,” said Tex Haeuser, South Portland’s city planning director. “Property owners interested in energy efficiency will be happy to blow their own horns and it’s only going to save them money in the end.”

Still, city officials expect some pushback from property owners or tenants who might not want to share utility data publicly, so they’re offering an incentive: a $5,000 reduction in city fees related to the future development of any property under the new Mill Creek Master Plan.

The city and some commercial property owners have already taken significant steps to reduce energy use, Haeuser said. The Maine Mall, which is outside the Mill Creek area, has replaced 80 percent of its lighting and much of its heating and cooling systems with energy-efficient versions, said Craig Gorris, mall general manager, who is a member of the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee.

PROMOTING ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Charles Bickford is one Mill Creek businessman who likes the benchmarking proposal. He’s general manager of the Maine Paint store at 153 Ocean St., a leased, cinder-block building constructed in 1983 that has a gross floor area of 7,366 square feet, according to city tax records.

“I’m quite embarrassed at the amount of heating oil we go through,” Bickford said. “Sometimes a tank in a week when it’s really cold. We spend a hideous amount of money, and when oil was high, it was crippling.”

Bickford said he and Maine Paint’s owners have pressed the landlord to make energy-saving improvements to the building without result. Leaving such a high-profile, well-recognized location is out of the question, Bickford said, especially since the store has been there for decades.

“We’re an anchor in this business community,” Bickford said. “Maybe the ordinance would entice the landlord to make some changes.”

Attempts to reach the trustee owners of 153 Ocean St. were unsuccessful.

The Mill Creek commercial area stretches from Broadway to E Street, and from Waterman Drive to Cottage Road, where a Hannaford supermarket dominates a prime waterfront parcel.

Approved last year, the Mill Creek Master Plan reimagines the city’s downtown shopping district as a more attractive, walkable, livable mixed-use urban village. City officials have said they hope to expand the growing desirability of the Knightville neighborhood next door and mirror Portland’s Old Port area across the harbor.

In the coming weeks, the Planning Board and City Council will consider a series of ordinance changes for the Mill Creek area that would allow taller buildings in a landscape with more streets, sidewalks, businesses, homes, workers and residents. The board will hold a public hearing on the ordinance changes July 26 and forward recommendations to the council for action later this summer or fall.

The changes could transform an area now dominated by a sea of pavement and low-slung, flat-roofed commercial buildings from the 1950s and 1960s, including the sprawling Shaw’s Millcreek Plaza and the Yankee Ford dealership. Whether Mill Creek property owners will respond remains to be seen.

FOLLOWING OTHER CITIES

U.S. cities that have adopted similar utility benchmarking ordinances include San Francisco, Seattle, Boulder, Austin, New Orleans, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.

The Seattle City Council updated its benchmarking ordinance in March, making the energy performance of commercial and city-owned buildings public information and requiring property owners to make regular no- or low-cost energy-saving improvements to commercial buildings with 50,000 square feet of floor space or more.

“Buildings are the second-largest source of climate pollution in Seattle and reducing their emissions is critical to meeting our city’s ambitious climate goals,” Mayor Ed Murray said in a news release. “Our legislation will ensure that our existing, older commercial buildings are high performing, helping to create jobs and reduce operating expenses for building owners and tenants.”

As proposed, South Portland’s benchmarking ordinance, which has been endorsed by the city’s Energy and Recycling Committee, wouldn’t require Mill Creek property owners to make energy-saving improvements, though some have suggested that could be a future goal, along with expanding the ordinance to other neighborhoods. The city would seek data for electricity, natural gas, heating oil and other energy sources used in heating, cooling, lighting and other operations.

The proposed ordinance stipulates that utility data must be submitted to the city’s sustainability coordinator by May 1 each year, though it appears that compliance would be largely voluntary. A property owner who failed to submit utility data within 30 days after the deadline would be considered in violation of the ordinance, but it doesn’t state what the penalty would be.