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Researchers say making buildings more efficient could cut utility costs in Missouri

A worker installs fiberglass insulation.
Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Lab
Installing loose-fill fiberglass insulation can help save on energy costs.

The federal Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution could provide tremendous financial savings for property owners in Missouri, according to research from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

While the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan does not explicitly require buildings to adopt certain energy efficient standards, it requires states to develop a plan to cut carbon emissions. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy ranks the Show Me State is 44th in the nation for energy efficiency.

If Missouri includes measures to make buildings more efficient, that would slash energy bills and air pollution, the Georgia Tech report said. In St. Louis, 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings and within that category, commercial properties emit the most. 

For example, commercial building owners and occupants could save an average of $109 million in energy costs in 2030, compared to what they would have to pay if no changes were made, the study estimated.

Researchers also found that retail and office buildings would benefit the most from Clean Power Plan measures. 

The report noted that strong changes in building codes could help reduce emissions and costs on energy bills. Residential and commercial buildings in St. Louis and St. Louis County and follow standards set in 2009 by the International Energy Conservation Code, which updates every three years. St. Louis County updates its building codes every six years and officials are reviewing the 2015 international code.

The recent edition of the code would require that new structures be built with features, such as more energy efficient windows and lights and increased wall and ceiling insulation.

"Improving building codes in St. Louis city and St. Louis County and the region would go a long way towards saving wasted energy," said John Hickey, who directs the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club. 

In St. Louis, the officials are looking for ways to encourage property owners to invest in energy efficiency. Set the PACE, for example, is an incentive program that helps building managers receive financial returns faster after spending on upgrades.

"It's not enough to know that you can save money," said Catherine Werner, sustainability director for the city of St. Louis. "People have to have specific information and tools to take advantage of these things." 

Werner plans to take a stronger approach to improving efficiency in buildings through St. Louis' first climate action plan, which she expects to begin developing this fall. 

Ultimately, such financial benefits to property owners rests on the implementation of the Clean Power Plan. The U.S. Supreme Court in Februarydelayed implementation of the plan after several states filed suit against the EPA. Missouri joined the lawsuit in October.

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.