Conference Recap: 11th Annual Midwest Building Energy Codes Conference

online conference

Last month, MEEA hosted the 11th annual Midwest Building Energy Codes Conference. This year’s conference was held virtually October 20-22, and while the event felt a little different than previous years, participants new and old still relished insightful sessions and discussions from our top-tier speakers and attendees.

Day 1

The conference kicked off with welcoming remarks from MEEA’s Building Program Director, Chris Burgess. MEEA shared insights into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our region, including how it has influenced policymaking efforts, code effective dates and energy efficiency jobs in the region.

Following these remarks, representatives from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin shared updates about happenings in the building energy efficiency space in their respective jurisdictions. Despite being impacted by the pandemic, many states are moving forward with code adoptions, or looking for other opportunities to advance building energy efficiency within their jurisdictions.

This year’s agenda also included three informal discussion sessions aimed to bring attendees together to talk through some major challenges and opportunities in building energy efficiency today. The first was focused on building inspections and the energy code. Ryan Colker from the International Code Council moderated the session and outlined some challenges and changes in building inspections being seen as a result of—among other things—the COVID-19 pandemic. Maggie Kelley from the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance also provided an overview of how the building inspection process has been impacted in the southeast region. Participants shared their perspectives on how inspections have changed, how they have not, and the challenges to conducting inspections specifically on the energy code. A focus of the discussion was on available resources jurisdictions could use to ease the transition to conducting inspections virtually.

The afternoon session explained the newest edition of the model energy code, the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which is expected to be released this fall. Eric Lacey from the Responsible Energy Codes Alliance provided some insight into the residential provisions expected to be included in the 2021 IECC, and highlighted results from the International Code Council appeals hearings that took place following the conclusion of the development process. Hope Medina from Colorado Code Consulting shared upcoming changes likely to be made to the commercial energy code, including some provisions that would provide significant increases in energy efficiency.

Day 2

The second day of the conference began with a conversation about benchmarking. Alison Lindburg from MEEA kicked off the panel by providing an overview of benchmarking policies in the Midwest. Jenna Tipaldi and Anthony Celebrezze from the City of Columbus, OH detailed the City’s newly adopted benchmarking ordinance and the stakeholder engagement process that was essential to its adoption. Following, Sarah Howard from JadeTrack shared her experience working with the City of Columbus and gave an overview of the company’s software used to streamline compliance with the City’s benchmarking ordinance. Elizabeth Lehman from the City of Cleveland rounded out the panel and spoke about the city’s climate action plan and benchmarking initiatives.

Following the morning session, attendees had an option to attend a discussion session on net zero buildings or a data jam with the City of Columbus.

The Columbus Data Jam was attended by over a dozen residents and building managers of the City of Columbus. The event helped prepare building owners and operators in Columbus to comply with their newly adopted benchmarking and disclosure ordinance. The City of Columbus provided an overview of the new policy, and JadeTrack helped attendees benchmark their buildings using their automated benchmarking system. JadeTrack and the City of Columbus are available to provide additional benchmarking technical assistance. Contact for more information.

The net zero discussion session was facilitated by Katie Kaluzny from Illinois Green Alliance. Katie started the discussion by defining ‘net zero’ as when “energy produced by renewable energy (both on-site and off-site) exceeds the energy consumed by a building.” The group then dove into a conversation about what is needed to advance net zero construction in the Midwest. Participants talked about challenges they are seeing with the adoption of beyond-code policies, and the struggle some jurisdictions have with advancing even the baseline code. Existing resources, best practices and strategies to support net zero projects were also shared amongst participants.

Later, leaders in the Midwest shared their experiences working on innovative policies and programs in their jurisdictions. First, Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Anthony Friar provided an overview of some of the energy codes-related work the state is doing in order to meet its established climate goals, including some preliminary outcomes from the Codes and Standards Roadmap project wrapping up this year. Following Anthony, Emily Andrews from USGBC Missouri Gateway Chapter spoke about the City of St. Louis’ newly adopted Building Energy Performance Standard, and the community engagement efforts that supported the adoption of the policy. Last, Violeta Gonzales shared challenges and opportunities from ComEd’s Electric Homes New Construction pilot.

Day 3

The final day of the conference started off with a session focused on code compliance and support programs. Ian Blanding of PNNL and Jeremy Williams from the U.S. Department of Energy shared findings from residential Single-Family Energy Efficiency Field Studies. Then, Jeff Friedrich discussed best practices and lessons learned from the first two years of the Ameren Missouri Residential Energy Code Support Program. Finally, Nick Minderman with Xcel Energy talked about its upcoming code support programs in Colorado and Minnesota.

Led by MEEA’s Alison Lindburg, the last informal discussion reflected on how events in 2020 have changed the building industry. It touched on impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events and other circumstances seen this year, and how they have impacted sustainability efforts across our region. Participants shared experiences from their respective jurisdictions. Impacts from this year were found to be extremely varied, with some jurisdictions seeing greater investment in sustainability efforts and others seeing a reduction.

The conference concluded with a facilitated Q&A on energy data, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated access to reliable information on building energy use. Leanna McKeon shared her experiences working with the Chicago Housing Authority and spoke on CHA’s building management and operations efforts, the organization’s benchmarking program and changes in energy use happening this year. Leah Hiniker provided a perspective from Hennepin County (MN) Facility Services, discussing the positive and negative impacts the COVID-19 pandemic had on building energy use in her jurisdiction and how energy reduction efforts will be affected going forward. The Q&A was facilitated by MEEA’s Alison Lindburg and saw great participation from attendees.

The first-ever virtual Midwest Building Energy Codes Conference was a success thanks to all our thoughtful speakers and attendees. MEEA looks forward to hosting the event again next fall.