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The City of Portland, Oregon

Planning and Sustainability

Innovation. Collaboration. Practical Solutions.

Phone: 503-823-7700

Curbside Hotline: 503-823-7202

1900 SW 4th Ave, Suite 7100, Portland, OR 97201

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Buildings and Energy Overview

Where the Emissions Come From

The electricity and natural gas we use in our buildings is the single-largest contributor to carbon emissions in Multnomah County(see figure below). This includes energy we use in our homes (“residential”) as well as energy that is used by businesses (“commercial”).

In Portland, despite relatively abundant hydropower in the region, well over half of all electricity is from burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas (see figure below).


Focus Areas

Reducing carbon emissions from building energy use requires two changes:

  1. Improving energy efficiency and conservation – so we use less electricity and natural gas to heat, cool and operate (e.g. lights) our buildings; and
  2. Reducing the carbon intensity of energy supplies – meaning, we want our energy to be coming from renewable energy like solar and wind power, and not from fossil fuels like electricity that comes from coal burning power plants.

In addition, we must think about both new and existing buildings because buildings last for many decades. More than half of the buildings that will exist in 2050 already exist today.  So, we need climate actions that address both the new things we build, as well as making improvements to the buildings we already have.


Proposed Climate Actions

Carbon emissions from energy use in buildings grew from 1990 (the first year we started keeping track) to a peak in the year 2000; and between 2000 and 2005 we saw a big reduction in emissions. Since then, building-related carbon emissions have been relatively flat -- close to 1990 levels for businesses, and about 10 percent below 1990 levels for homes.

This means that in recent years we haven’t been making significant progress on reducing building related emissions.  In order to reach our goals, the actions proposed for the Buildings and Energy chapter should:

  • Seek to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings;
  • Seek to ensure that new buildings are highly energy efficiency; or
  • Seek to increase the amount of energy provided by clean renewable sources.


This chapter also contains actions that:

  • Seek to ensure that new buildings can adapt to a changing climate (we’ll talk more about climate change preparation in future sessions).


Things to Keep in Mind

  • The City and County do not provide energy services – separate utilities do this (e.g. PGE, Pacific Power, Northwest Natural). Therefore, we have limited ability to direct their activities (i.e. we can’t tell them what to do).
  • The City and County must follow the State of Oregon building code, including the energy code. We are currently unable to adopt policies or require standards that are more stringent than the State’s code.
  • The City and County can, however, provide technical assistance, do outreach and education programs, help provide incentives, assist with weatherization for low-income homes, reduce regulatory barriers to on-site renewables (e.g. solar), advocate for legislative laws and policies at the state level, etc.
  • Many of the actions that have to do with educating the public about energy efficiency (e.g. buying Energy Star appliances) and strategies to reduce energy consumption (e.g. turning off lights, turning down the heat, etc.) will be reviewed when the Community Engagement chapter is discussed in a few weeks.