In December 2009, New York City passed what experts regard as the most sweeping commercial building energy-efficiency legislation in the country. The package of mandates — known as the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan — will toughen energy-efficiency requirements for renovations, obligate most facilities to undergo energy audits every 10 years, and force buildings to update their lighting systems to more efficient technology. But the part of the plan likely to have the greatest significance nationwide is the requirement that all commercial buildings greater than 50,000 square feet benchmark and publicly report their energy use.
New York City isn't the first jurisdiction to require buildings to benchmark energy use. California started the race in 2007, requiring benchmarking and limited disclosure beginning Jan. 1, 2010. Washington, D.C., went further in 2008 by requiring phased-in public disclosure of energy use starting this year. New York City's 2009 legislation took another big step, mandating full compliance years ahead of the D.C. legislation for a far greater swath of facility types.
Meanwhile, other jurisdictions are looking at their own energy-use benchmarking and disclosure requirements. Directly on the heels of the New York City measure, Seattle passed its own energy-use benchmarking and disclosure law in January. As Seattle developed its benchmarking legislation, city officials kept tabs on what other jurisdictions were doing and collaborated with about 10 other jurisdictions that were also hashing out their own benchmarking initiatives, says Jayson Antonoff, sustainable infrastructure and green building policy advisor for the City of Seattle department of planning and development.
"Everyone should have it on their radar," Antonoff says. "I definitely see it becoming a national trend."
The New York City law could give a powerful impetus to that trend. With more than a million buildings spread across five boroughs, and a concentration of commercial high-rises unrivalled anywhere in the country, the city's action catalyzes energy benchmarking in the nation's largest real-estate market.
New York City's benchmarking law is formally known as Intro. No. 476-A, Benchmarking Energy and Water Use. The measure requires commercial facilities of more than 50,000 gross square feet to benchmark their energy and water use each year, beginning May 1, 2011. City-owned buildings larger than 10,000 square feet must begin annual benchmarking by May 1 of this year. (For highlights of the other laws included in the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, see "Landmark" below).
The benchmarked data will be submitted to the city via the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool, a free online benchmarking program. Failure to upload benchmarked data into Portfolio Manager is a "lesser violation" of the building code, meaning fines will be imposed. Data for commercial buildings will be available to the public on the tax assessment roll Web site and searchable by address starting Sept. 1, 2012, one year after data on city-owned buildings is due to be posted.
The disclosed data will include the facility's energy utilization index (expressed as BTUs per year per square foot), the water use per gross square foot, the Energy Star rating (if available for the facility type) and a year-to-year comparison of the facility's benchmarked data.
Before New York City acted, only Washington, D.C., required annual public disclosure of energy use data. Most other disclosure language — like that of California — pertains only to the parties involved during a sale or lease of a facility, and sometimes to current tenants.
Public disclosure of energy use has a two-fold rationale, says Rohit Aggarwala, director of the NYC Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability (OLTPS). First, putting the energy benchmarking score on the tax roll makes energy efficiency an immediately visible asset to a prospective tenant or buyer. The Energy Star score should be "one of the first things that a potential tenant or purchaser looks at or thinks about," says Aggarwala. "And that makes energy efficiency a valuable component to a building in the market."
The second rationale is to drive performance through competition: "We will rely on the fact that real estate managers will be looking over each other's shoulders and the competitive nature of the real estate community will compel some people to tell their building staff, ÔThe other guy in a very similar building is doing much better than you are, so get your act together,'" says Aggarwala.
Because the city is directly involved in the benchmarked data reporting, there is an added component of oversight and accountability. The city will annually review the aggregate data. If there is an indication that the data is not being reported accurately, the city will evaluate whether further steps — like training or more enforcement — are necessary, says Aggarwala.
New York City's energy benchmarking and disclosure law is part of a package of legislation known as the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan aimed at improving the energy efficiency of the city's commercial buildings. To date, it is the most comprehensive legislation of its type in the nation. The other three laws in that measure, which passed in December 2009, were:
Intro. No. 564-A: This law closes a loophole for renovations in the New York State energy code. The state energy code only applies if at least 50 percent of a system or subsystem is being renovated. The New York City Energy Conservation Code (ECC), however, will apply no matter the size of the renovation, but only to the parts of the system involved. For example, if a building has windows replaced on one floor, those windows would have to meet the ECC standards, but the remaining untouched windows could stay as is. The ECC is based on the state energy code. The law takes effect July 1, 2010.
Intro No. 973-A: Required Upgrade of Lighting Systems. By Jan. 1, 2025, buildings greater than 50,000 gross square feet must upgrade their lighting systems to meet the standards of the ECC. After that date, buildings will also have to submeter tenant space of more than 10,000 square feet.
Intro No. 967-A: Audits and Retro-commissioning of Base Building Systems. Privately-owned buildings have to conduct energy audits every ten years and carry out any system retrocomissioning recommended by the audit. The building's benchmarked score is part of the audit. Buildings can avoid having to do the audit if they meet either of two criteria:
In addition to completing the audit, buildings owned by the city are required to complete retrofits that have a simple payback of seven years or less.
Staggered due dates for the energy efficiency reports generated by the audits start Dec. 31, 2013.
Building owners may also choose early compliance by meeting the requirements of the law in 2013 instead of waiting for their slots. Their next audit will not be due until 10 years after their audit filing deadline would have been.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will currently pay for half of the audit as part of a statewide ongoing initiative.
— Naomi Millán
NYC's Greener, Greater Buildings Plan
NYC Requires Energy Star Portfolio Manager in Benchmarking Legislation
National Significance of NYC Benchmarking Legislation