Greenspace: Study highlights energy-efficient buildings in Minnesota

The Great Plains Institute has compiled a list of all the Energy Star certified buildings in Minnesota, hoping to set a baseline of information and look for the progress being made in Minnesota toward resource saving.

Buildings that are Energy Star certified use 35 percent less energy than a typical commercial building, according to the report. Overall, Energy Star buildings save $2 billion in energy costs nationwide in more than 300,000 buildings that are tracked with Energy Star's Portfolio Manager.

There are 561 Energy Star buildings in Minnesota ranging from schools and office buildings to warehouses and commercial buildings such as retail shops, banks and senior care facilities. And those buildings cover a total of 105 million square feet of space.

Trevor Drake, of the Great Plains Institute and one of the report's authors, said earning an Energy Star rating can be tough. "The candidates need to enter 12 months of energy usage into Portfolio Manager, the EPA's tracking tool," he said. "Then, they need to have a professional engineer look at their data and verify the results."

A score of 75 means that a building is more efficient than 75 percent of the 300,000 surveyed buildings. But only 20,000 buildings nationwide have earned Energy Star certification.


In Rochester, there are eight Energy Star buildings, with Cottagewood Senior Community—formerly Sunrise Cottages—a senior living facility earning a perfect 100 score in 2012. It was the second certification for the building; it earned a 98 in 2011.

Drake said the purpose of the study was to look at the Energy Star buildings in Minnesota and get an idea of where the state stands so they can gauge Minnesota's energy saving progress into the future. Since a building can go through the certification process each year, it can earn higher scores over time, which is what tends to happen. For example, buildings with just one certification earn an average score of 84.69. But the scores go up as more certifications are earned. Buildings with six or more certifications average scores above 92.

And it's not just scores that go up over time, it's the number of buildings certified. When the program started in Minnesota in 1999, there were three Energy Star certified buildings. By 2009, that number had grown to 261. And it has since more than doubled to 561 as of Sept. 15.

While the goal behind the report has been to set a benchmark that will serve as a starting point for further study, Drake said the Great Plains Institute might eventually start looking at the reason behind the growth in certification. "It's possible we'll do additional work to look at the drivers behind this."

One of the big benefits right now, he said, is the prestige that comes with carrying the Energy Star name on your building. "That's certainly one of the benefits of certification is getting to show that you've put in that hard work," Drake said.

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