Skip to main content

Energy Use in Buildings

Over 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in Saint Paul come from energy used in buildings.

Learn More

The energy used in commercial buildings is responsible for 30% of Saint Paul’s total emissions, while residential buildings account for about 27%. Two-thirds (2/3)of the 120,000+ residential units in Saint Paul are in 1-4 unit properties, while the remaining one-third are in multifamily (5+ units) buildings. For the purposes of energy use, these multi-family buildings are considered "commercial."

The cost of energy impacts Saint Paul residents differently. The percentage of income that households spend on energy is called energy burden, and some residents have a significantly larger energy burden than others.  The Saint Paul Climate Action & Resilience Plan calls for reducing the energy burden on every household to no more than 4%.

One of the best first steps Saint Paul residents can take to reduce energy bills and cut emissions is to schedule a visit from the Xcel Energy Home Energy Squad. The Home Energy Squad will evaluate your home for energy-saving improvements, provide recommendations, and supply residents with information about rebates from Xcel Energy. And while there, they will Install energy-saving materials such as LED lightbulbs, door and attic hatch weather stripping, programmable thermostat, and high-efficiency water fixtures.

For commercial buildings, better building management and increased energy awareness can help reduce energy usage, thereby also reducing energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Xcel Energy also has multiple programs designed to help commercial and multifamily building owners reduce energy use and save money, including rebates on efficient lighting and equipment and technical support to improve operations. Learn more here. District Energy Saint Paul, which serves much of Downtown Saint Paul with building heating and cooling, also works with it's customers to improve energy efficiency.

Attaining carbon neutrality in just over 30 years will require aggressive efforts to reduce overall building energy use 50% through efficiency and conservation and convert energy sources to renewable or carbon-free energy.


Residential energy accounts for 19% of Saint Paul’s community-wide emissions. Because Xcel Energy plans to produce 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050, the emissions from residential buildings at that time will come entirely from natural gas consumption for the purposes of space and water heating, as well as cooking.

The most impactful actions to reduce those remaining emissions will be:

  1. Prevent emissions with the adoption of stricter building energy codes for new development
  2. Complete deep energy retrofits that include building envelope improvements
  3. Encourage electrification of natural gas appliances

Inspire a culture of Energy Stewardship

Key Initiatives:

R-1 Achieve PiE plan Year 1 milestones related to energy efficiency

R-2 Work at the state level to support green residential building energy standards; adopt the stretch building code when it becomes available

R-3 Create a comprehensive deep energy efficiency retrofit program that systematically reaches every 1-4 unit household in the city, beginning simultaneously in high energy use and low-income neighborhoods

R-4 Educate residents about the benefits of replacing heating equipment with air-source heat-pumps, or other efficient electric heating options

R-5 Support opportunities for residents to replace natural gas appliances (e.g., ranges, water heaters, etc.) with electric alternatives; partner with Xcel Energy to explore thermal storage opportunities

R-6 Identify opportunities for thermal grid applications for new developments

R-7 Host a citywide solar resource map on the city website

R-8 Offer a production incentive for residential solar installations

Residential Energy Burden

An estimated 38,000 Saint Paul Households live below 50% of the area median income. A baseline analysis of household income and average energy costs show that 12 census tracts within the city have a median energy burden above 4%, with the highest at 12%. These 12 tracts contain over 10,000 households. The following initiatives are aimed at relieving energy burden among households in the 12 census tracts identified in the PiE plan.

Energy Burden

Key Initiatives:

REB-1 Establish an energy burden working group to coordinate outreach actions and resource knowledge among local community entities and trusted leaders REB-2 Develop policy options that incentivize 4D property owners (a classification of properties that receives reduced property tax rates to maintain affordability) to make energy efficiency improvements

REB-3 Help increase low-income access to affordable renewable energy

REB-4 Host community-solar gardens that include low-income participation

REB-5 Offer a higher production incentive to income-qualified households as compared to other households

Major Institutions Targets and Actions

The commercial and industrial sectors make up the greatest share of building emissions. Achieving significant reductions among the city’s largest buildings will be critical to work toward carbon neutrality. Many companies across the country are setting their own greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals. By working closely with the largest users in the commercial sector, both the city and the business community can realize the benefits of reducing energy use and GHG emissions. The most impactful actions in the commercial sectors are:

  1. Green building standards for new buildings
  2. Efficient operation of existing buildings
  3. Building energy retrofits

Engage Major Institutions

Key Initiatives:

MI-1 Secure institutional commitments to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in the next two years; following the leadership of Macalester College (carbon neutral by 2025) and University of St. Thomas (carbon neutral by 2035); involve student leaders

MI-2 Explore feasibility and impact of energy benchmarking requirement

MI-3 Support institutions in assessing readiness for renewable energy and investing in renewable subscriptions and/or local renewable installations.

MI-4 Implement additional outreach with local partners to increase participation in available programmatic financing options

MI-5 Implement an energy challenge competition to motivate institutional partners

Multifamily and Large Commercial

Multifamily and large commercial are the next largest users of building energy. Of the more than 100,000 housing units in Saint Paul, approximately one-third are multifamily (5+ units). Other buildings classified as commercial properties include a wide range of use types. Of those over 25,000 square feet, the largest use category are properties classified as generic commercial, such as offices and retail. The different use types pose a range of challenges in addressing energy consumption and program delivery. Better building management and increased energy awareness can help minimize many of those challenges.

Multifamily and Large Commercial

Key Initiatives:

LC-1 Ensure the former Ford site becomes a leader for sustainable planning with locally generated power from an integrated, renewable site-based energy system

LC-2 Explore feasibility and impact of an energy benchmarking requirement

LC-3 Update and expand Saint Paul’s Sustainable Building Policy to strengthen requirements

LC-4 Enhance the expertise of building operators and code officials to optimize efficient building performance

LC-5 Prepare and disseminate resources for the commercial sector on financial benefits of solar installations

LC-6 Offer a production incentive for commercial solar installations

LC-7 Explore opportunities for renewable natural gas (biomethane) with low-carbon feedstock

LC-8 Assess feasibility to expand thermal grid strategies (e.g., district heating)

LC-9 Pursue and consider policies to incentivize advanced heat recovery projects

LC-10 Identify where strategic electrification of certain loads would assist in decarbonization

Small and Mid-Size Commercial

Small and mid-size businesses often operate on budgets with thin margins. Making energy improvements can help decrease unnecessary costs and improve comfort.

Small and Mid-Size Commercial

Key Initiatives:

SC-1 Engage small businesses in energy efficiency programs

SC-2 Target small businesses in low-income communities with energy efficiency opportunities

SC-3 Promote financing and rebate opportunities, such as commercial PACE and utility rebate programs

SC-4 Provide information for small business efficiency programs in multiple languages

SC-5 Promote utility green power purchase programs

SC-6 Provide information and resources for participating in a community solar garden project

SC-7 Offer a production incentive for commercial solar installations

Saving energy also means that you get to save money on your utility bill. These simple actions can make a big difference:

  • Utilize natural light
  • Turn off lights and electronics when you are not using them
  • Replace traditional light bulbs with LEDs
  • Get a Smart Thermostat
  • Ensure your home is properly insulated
  • Put Decorative lights on a timer
  • Install energy-efficient appliances and reduce appliance use
  • Use less hot water
  • Use smart power strips
  • Install energy-efficient windows
  • Upgrade your HVAC system
  • Weatherize your home