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By Karen Kroll
Energy Efficiency Article Use Policy
In an effort to help reduce energy consumption by municipal and commercial buildings, a number of cities and municipalities are turning to Energy Star Portfolio Manager as a key part of their push for mandatory energy use benchmarking.
Many businesspeople agree that you can't manage what you don't measure. Given that, a small, but growing, number of government bodies are requiring building owners to regularly measure their facilities' energy consumption, with an eye toward reducing it.
In an Energy Star study from October 2012, researchers looked at data from 35,000 buildings that entered complete energy data in Portfolio Manager, Energy Star's free online benchmarking tool, and received Energy Star scores for 2008 through 2011. The study found that those buildings saved an average of 2.4 percent in energy costs annually. For a 500,000-square-foot office building, that translates to cumulative energy cost savings of $120,000 over three years, the report estimates.
Recognizing that benchmarking energy use generally leads to at least modest reductions in consumption, officials in Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and Washington D.C., among other states and municipalities, are requiring building owners to measure and report energy use. Typically, this is done via Energy Star's Portfolio Manager tool. Some agencies make the information publicly available, while others mandate only that it be accessible to the parties in a transaction involving the facility, such as a potential lender or tenant.
But not everyone is convinced that mandated energy reporting is the best way to cut energy consumption. The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International supports energy benchmarking and encourages its members to use Energy Star Portfolio Manager, says Karen Penafiel, vice president, advocacy. But BOMA also believes the process should be voluntary, and that "this information is really meant for parties in a transaction," Penafiel says. In some cases, the data is likely to be misinterpreted by the public, she says. For instance, a building's Portfolio Manager score may be low due largely to one tenant's use, or the building owner may be planning a renovation designed to boost energy efficiency. "The label itself doesn't tell the whole story," she says. "It's misleading to make decisions on that alone."
BOMA also is concerned that as mandated reporting legislation springs up in different cities, facility managers will need to comply with a mix of regulations, adding time and complexity, Penafiel says.
BOMA and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB) sponsored a recent study, "An Economic Perspective on Building Labeling Policies," which notes that "building labeling doesn't distinguish between occupant energy use patterns and a building's inherent energy efficiency, unless measures are taken to control for occupant energy use."
The report also says that most energy reporting programs in the U.S. are new, and evidence of benefits is limited. "While benefits are conceivable, there is limited evidence that these programs will result in meaningful changes in energy use, let alone energy savings that offset the program's economic costs," it says.
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