Global warming, Miami’s proximity to the sea, and its average 6-foot above sea level elevation have provided the impetus for the adoption of MiPlan, a bold climate action intiative which identifies the current problems associated with greenhouse gases, the output of greenhouse gases in the city, and establishes a plan to reduce those greenhouse gases.
MiPlan inventoried current greenhouse gas emissions in Miami. The plan’s data suggests, surprisingly to me, that the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach area has the lowest per capita emission rate as compared to other Florida metropolitan areas (such as Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville) and a lower per capita emission rate than the United States average. Approximately 54% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from emissions associated with electricity. (MiPlan, page 8).
Commercial sector buildings contain approximately 35% of Miami’s built square feet, but consume 60% of the city’s electricity. MiPlan contends that because of the age of these buildings (80% of all Miami buildings are more than 20 years old), upgrades to assist with energy efficiency should have a great impact on the city’s overall energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. (MiPlan, page 10).
As a result of these findings, the City of Miami created (in 2008) a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by the year 2020. In order to accomplish this goal, the city concludes that emissions must be cut by addressing energy efficiency in new and existing buildings. (MiPlan, page 20). Of course, this means that the bulk of the financial burden in addressing the city’s goals will fall on the commercial sector.
MiPlan lays out seven actions to improve energy efficiency in buildings and decrease greenhouse gas emission from buildings. They include: forming alliances with other government and non-profit organizations to address energy efficiency; reducing energy consumption in existing government buildings by retrofitting, commissioning, and auditing; reducing energy consumption in existing private buildings by mandating energy improvements during major renovations and/or points of sale and developing financial incentives for improvements; reducing energy consumption in all new construction by developing mandates and incentives for green building efforts, such as requiring all city government buildings over 5,000 square feet to be built to minimum LEED silver certification and all buildings over 50,000 square feet to be built to LEED silver requirements; reducing the “heat island effect”, educating the business sector and the public on energy efficiency, and reviewing progress on increasing energy efficiency in buildings. (MiPlan, pages 20-24).
Since the city adopted MiPlan in 2008, several ordinances have been passed in order to begin to accomplish the goals set out in the ambitious plan. Ordinance 09-0095327 adds a new section entitled “Heat Island Effect-Roof” which provides for the construction of roofs (other than R1 and R2 residential zoning improvements) to reflect the sun’s heat. This ordinance pertains to new construction or the repair/replacement of a roof area greater than 50% of the existing roof. The city also passed Ordinance 09-0094921 which creates landscaping standards that prevent the destruction of the city’s tree canopy and encourages landscape design that promotes the channeling of breezes and air purification.
Despite the findings in MiPlan, there are those who feel that the benefits associated with having more energy efficiency aren’t matched by the cost of implementing these projects. One of the problems is that even estimating cost savings is difficult. How much can be saved by adding ‘green features’ or meeting a LEED certification? “None of us have hard data. . . .This whole movement came out of the academic and government worlds, and those two universes aren’t concerned about cost containment,” said Jack Lowell, managing director of Flagler Real Estate Services Oncor International in Miami (quoted in “Special Report: Going Green,” Daily Business Review, August 25, 2008).
Even if Miami begins to mandate particular building standards that new construction or renovation projects will have to meet such as LEED certification, there is no guarantee that projected greenhouse gas emission declines will occur or that estimated cost-savings will transpire. “The real [green] footprint of a building lies in the maintenance and operations,” said Brendan Owens, vice president of LEED technical development for the U.S. Green Building Council (quoted in “Special Report: Going Green,” Daily Business Review, August 25, 2008). This concern seems self-obvious, with maintenance and monitoring of existing buildings being a subject that has not received the attention and development it will obviously need for true energy and costs savings to landlords and tenants.
Even if energy savings are realized through green building and renovation standards, there remains the debate over who receives the benefit. “There could be an argument made if landlords said their energy costs are 20 percent less so they can charge 20 percent less in market rates, but it never works that way,” said Barbara Liberatore Black, principal and vice chairman of CresaPartner, Florida (quoted in “Special Report: Going Green,” Daily Business Review, August 25, 2008).
So, while the debate over “green buildings” and energy savings continues, Miami has nevertheless forged ahead with its own bold plan to reduce greenhouse gases. But until energy efficiency and measurement tools are commercially available and in use, and until the economics to justify “going green” are understood, we can expect slow going.
Dale A. Burket (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Florida attorney who is Board Certified in Real Estate by The Florida Bar. He is a partner with Lowndes Drosdick Doster Kantor & Reed, P.A. (www.lowndes-law.com) in Orlando, Florida. The author gratefully acknowledges the contributions of associate attorney Laura M. Walda (email@example.com) to this article.