SOUTH PORTLAND — Saying the proposal is too intrusive, the Planning Board Tuesday declined to recommend requiring public energy-consumption benchmarks for some private building owners.

The proposal would require owners of commercial buildings that are more than 5,000 square feet in the Mill Creek neighborhood to chart their building’s water and energy consumption for the public record. In exchange for participating, the owners would receive incentives such as building fees and permits.

The measure, designed to encourage building owners to operate more sustainably, failed 4-2. But it must still be vetted by the City Council.

If passed by the council, benchmarks would also apply to residential buildings with 10 or more units that are built in Mill Creek, where presently there are none. 

The new standards would also include all municipal buildings and schools, with the data collected and monitored by the city.

If they already existed, the standards would apply to about 30 properties in the neighborhood and 29 municipal buildings across the city. 

The decision to not recommend adoption by the council undermines environmental goals outlined in the Mill Creek Master Plan and the city’s Comprehensive Plan, city sustainability coordinator Julie Rosenbach said Monday. 

Both plans “support energy efficiency,” and “actively encourage the use of green building techniques,” she said. 

The building sector across the country accounts for “40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and nearly 40 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions,” she said. 

Other municipalities across the country that have implemented benchmarks have charted an average savings of 2.4 percent each year, with an average of 7 percent for buildings that have been benchmarking longer than three years, Rosenbach said. 

Newer buildings are considerably more energy efficient than older buildings, but only 3 percent of the country’s building stock is added each year. That means in order to “make a meaningful reduction in overall energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, we must address existing buildings,” Rosenbach said. “Benchmarking does this.”

But the majority of Planning Board members, many of whom agreed that mitigating carbon emissions is important, on July 26 said it doesn’t trump the right to privacy. 

Board member Isaac Misiuk called the requirement for building owners to make their energy consumption open to the public “unconstitutional.”

“I think it’s a very slippery slope when it comes to something like this,” he said. 

Board member Adrian Dowling said he supports benchmarking, but his “privacy concerns are a little too concerning” and kept him from supporting the measure. 

But board members Taylor Neff and Kathleen Phillips, who voted to recommend benchmarking, asked what good it does to have a goal of energy efficiency without a way to require it.

“When we say in our city plans that we’re going to be a green city, those can’t just be words,” Neff said. “We have to say something to back that up.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

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