1221 Lofts. Photo by Scott Ball.
1221 Lofts is one of the 52 Energy Star buildings that helped put San Antonio on the EPA's Top Cities list. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio has made it onto the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s annual list of “Top Cities” for energy efficient buildings for the first time, the agency announced earlier this week.

Fifty-two Energy Star-certified commercial and multifamily buildings were enough for the San Antonio-New Braunfels metro area to crack the list, squeaking on at the 25th spot. The EPA said those 52 green buildings helped the region save an estimated $10.5 million and 55,279 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the past year, the equivalent of taking nearly 12,000 passenger vehicles off the road.

Making the EPA list “shows that the mayor’s green initiatives are beginning to work,” said Larry Graf, chair of the U.S. Green Building Council of the South Texas Region. However, being the seventh largest city in the nation, San Antonio still has work to do, Graf warned.

Buildings included USAA’s headquarters, Boerne High School, and Catalina at Dominion apartments. View the full list here.

The agency’s annual list has been published every year since 2009, said EPA region 6 spokeswoman Jennah Durant. The EPA looks at which U.S. cities — considered by the agency as “metropolitan areas” as defined by the U.S. Census — earned the most Energy Star certifications last year, then ranks the cities accordingly, Durant said.

San Antonio’s status as a first-time city on the list is significant, as it illustrates that the city’s green building programs are maturing, she said.

“San Antonio’s placement in the Top 25 signifies that the owners and managers of the city’s buildings are embracing energy efficiency as the cheapest and easiest way to cut costs, reduce emissions, and help create a healthier San Antonio for its citizens,” said Durant.

Making the list for the first time is quite an achievement for San Antonio, said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg in the EPA’s release.

“I’m thrilled that San Antonio has reached the Environmental Protection Agency’s top 25 cities for ENERGY STAR certified buildings,” Nirenberg said. “Having recently adopted our local Climate Action & Adaptation Plan, which strives to make our community carbon neutral by 2050, it’s encouraging to see that our city is on the right track.” 

With other initiatives, such as the city’s Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE program in action, San Antonio will likely see the number of green buildings increase in years to come and hopefully move up the list’s rankings, Nirenberg said. Other Texas cities that made the list this year include Houston, Dallas, and Austin at 7th, 8th, and 17th respectively. 

The Green Building Council’s Graf said San Antonio still needs to figure out a way to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings.

“While it’s easy to make sure new buildings and homes are energy efficient,” he said, “San Antonio needs to address its historical buildings as well. We just need to improve our [building] codes, to be stricter.”

Build San Antonio Green Executive Director Anita Ledbetter said energy efficient buildings are important in a city like San Antonio that has extreme heat in the summer because of the need to reduce emissions while also keeping tenants cool.

In order to get an Energy Star certification, a building must apply to the agency and demonstrate that it is more energy efficient than 75 percent of similar buildings nationwide, the EPA’s Durant said. Because Energy Star-certified buildings are so efficient, they need less energy to operate. On average, these buildings use 35 percent less energy and generate 35 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their peers.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...