A Bid to ‘Shame’ Building Owners Into Energy Efficiency

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Alex Brown
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Alex Brown
Sept. 12, 2013, 3:24 p.m.

Can own­ers of big com­mer­cial build­ings be “shamed” in­to us­ing less en­ergy? At least one sen­at­or and a key fed­er­al agency think so, and just this week Chica­go joined a grow­ing list of cit­ies that are put­ting the the­ory to the test.

The concept is called en­ergy bench­mark­ing, and it re­quires own­ers of large build­ings to pub­licly dis­close their en­ergy con­sump­tion on a reg­u­lar basis. An or­din­ance passed by the Chica­go City Coun­cil on Wed­nes­day will re­quire an­nu­al re­ports on en­ergy us­age for all build­ings with more than 50,000 square feet of floor space.

“Good data drives mar­kets and in­nov­a­tion,” Chica­go May­or Rahm Emanuel said in a state­ment of sup­port for the new reg­u­la­tions. “[Bench­mark­ing] will ac­cel­er­ate Chica­go’s growth as a cap­it­al for green jobs by arm­ing build­ing own­ers, real es­tate com­pan­ies, en­ergy ser­vice com­pan­ies, and oth­ers with the in­form­a­tion they need to make smart, cost-sav­ing in­vest­ments.”

The Windy City isn’t the first to pass such a meas­ure: Eight cit­ies and two states, in­clud­ing Wash­ing­ton, D.C., have already ad­op­ted sim­il­ar pro­pos­als. D.C.’s bench­mark­ing man­date passed in 2008, and the first re­ports for build­ings ex­ceed­ing 100,000 square feet are due Oct. 1.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has offered an amend­ment to an en­ergy bill now be­ing con­sidered in the Sen­ate that would re­quire en­ergy bench­mark­ing for all fed­er­al build­ings.

“The main thing my amend­ment does is to re­quire that build­ing spaces that are leased by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment meas­ure and re­port their en­ergy use,” Franken said in a floor state­ment Wed­nes­day. “The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is the na­tion’s largest con­sumer of en­ergy. Tax­pay­ers are pay­ing for all of that en­ergy. We owe it to them to make sure our build­ings save as much en­ergy as pos­sible.”

En­ergy bench­mark­ing has also been cham­pioned by the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency, which of­fers En­ergy Star soft­ware to build­ing own­ers that en­ables them to track en­ergy use.

One build­ing-man­age­ment com­pany in Wash­ing­ton, Akridge, uses the EPA pro­gram, and the com­pany’s Sarah Pam­ula has some ad­vice for build­ing own­ers in Chica­go who will soon be re­quired to file re­ports. “They should start early,” Pam­ula said, say­ing it took her months cor­res­pond­ing with ten­ants to gath­er the re­quired three years of re­port­ing data. That got es­pe­cially com­plic­ated when leases had changed hands, she said.

An en­ergy-bench­mark­ing spe­cial­ist for the D.C. De­part­ment of the En­vir­on­ment, Mar­shall Duer-Bal­kind, said the ini­tial star­tup prob­lems are worth the pay­off. “People are say­ing, ‘This was really hard at first, but I’m find­ing great use in it and great util­ity.’”¦ It’s helped them in­crease their ef­fi­ciency and identi­fy prop­er­ties where they need to work.”

Not every­one in Chica­go is on board with the new re­quire­ments. Mi­chael Cor­ni­celli, ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent of Chica­go’s Build­ing Own­ers and Man­agers As­so­ci­ation, said the pub­lic dis­clos­ure man­date “will un­fairly pen­al­ize and mar­gin­al­ize many older and his­tor­ic­ally sig­ni­fic­ant build­ings in Chica­go.”

Cor­ni­celli ad­ded: “Pub­lish­ing the scores for build­ings that simply can­not af­ford the work ne­ces­sary to raise [their scores] will not ‘shame’ those build­ings in­to achiev­ing high­er scores. It will simply im­pose yet an­oth­er com­pet­it­ive bur­den on an already chal­lenged sec­tor.”

But Franken main­tains that something has to be done to im­prove en­ergy ef­fi­ciency.

“In the United States, our en­ergy con­sump­tion is about one-fifth of the world’s total en­ergy con­sump­tion,” he said. “That’s re­mark­able when you con­sider that we have less than one-twen­ti­eth of the world’s pop­u­la­tion. But a tre­mend­ous amount of that en­ergy is simply lost through in­ef­fi­cient build­ings, ap­pli­ances, in­dus­tri­al pro­cesses, and cars. Those losses have been es­tim­ated to cost U.S. busi­nesses and house­holds $130 bil­lion each year.”

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