St. Paul leaders are asking building owners to cut back energy use this summer, as part of a goal to reduce climate-changing pollution across the city.

A city initiative called Energize St. Paul is kicking off this summer with Race to Reduce, a voluntary program in which the city will work with property owners to track energy use and make buildings more energy-efficient.

"Our goal is to make the city of St. Paul the first place building owners go when they want to lower their utility bills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and drive economic growth," Mayor Melvin Carter said at a news conference announcing the initiative Wednesday.

Commercial and multifamily residential buildings account for 35 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in St. Paul. City officials have set a goal to reduce that number by 4 percent annually, with a focus on buildings over 50,000 square feet, more than half of which are located downtown.

This is the latest in a long line of environmental initiatives in St. Paul. Under former Mayor Chris Coleman, city officials spent a year cataloging greenhouse gas emissions and set the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Carter's Chief Resilience Officer, Russ Stark, is working to complete the Climate Action Plan begun during the Coleman administration.

Cities across the country, from Atlanta to Reno, already have programs like Energize St. Paul. The Minneapolis City Council adopted an ordinance in 2013 that requires public and large commercial buildings to report energy usage to the city.

St. Paul officials are working on a "benchmarking ordinance" of their own, said Molly Janis Smith, the city's building energy adviser. Energize St. Paul and Race to Reduce are efforts to encourage building owners to curb energy use before it's a requirement, she said.

"The city wants to demonstrate broad support for energy efficiency while forming a network of building managers who are able to learn from one another," she said. "Together, we can save businesses and tenants money and energy while increasing performance, making buildings that are healthier, more comfortable places to live and work."

Throughout the summer, participating building owners will learn to track energy use, tune up heating and air conditioning equipment and make sure equipment turns on and off at the right times. Xcel Energy, District Energy, the St. Paul Port Authority, the Greater St. Paul Building Owners and Managers Association and the Downtown Alliance will work with the city to help participating building owners.

Some building owners are already on board. Clint Blaiser, president and CEO of the real estate development company Halverson and Blaiser Group, said his company has worked for years to make buildings more energy-efficient and has saved money as a result. The company plans to participate in Race to Reduce with the Northwestern and Pioneer Endicott buildings downtown, he said.

The city will recognize participating buildings throughout the summer and hold an awards ceremony in the fall.

Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509