National Significance of NYC Benchmarking Legislation

By Naomi Millán, Associate Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: NYC's Greener, Greater Buildings PlanPt. 2: NYC Requires Energy Star Portfolio Manager in Benchmarking LegislationPt. 3: This Page

The message for facility managers is simple: Don't wait for the benchmarking deadline to get started with the process. "If you don't know your energy performance, find out soon because soon the world will know," says Adam Hinge, managing director of Sustainable Energy Partnerships.

Starting early will also help avoid any crunch-time headaches related to gathering data. "That way they won't have any surprises later when it does turn out that some buildings don't have all of the information they need," says Aggarwala.

The New York City deadline may accelerate the move to voluntary benchmarking nationwide. Many organizations with facilities in New York City also have national portfolios. Those organizations will have to devote someone on the team to learn how to benchmark. Once they have mastered that skill, they are in a position to benchmark the rest of the portfolio, says Michael Bobker, director of the CUNY Building Performance Lab, which helped New York City schools to benchmark their energy use.

"It may be a law that proliferates to other jurisdictions, but even if it doesn't, (benchmarking) is good energy management practice," he says.

Increasingly, benchmarking is also seen as good public policy. Benchmarking addresses a central challenge of national efforts to reduce energy use: the need to improve the efficiency of existing buildings. "Existing buildings have to be addressed," says Antonoff. "Unless we're dealing with the existing buildings, we can't address energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions."

According to New York City, existing buildings of more than 50,000 square feet account for 45 percent of the city's energy consumption, and 85 percent of buildings that will be in use in 2030 already exist.

What's more, in the context of the national debate about the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, benchmarking represents an inexpensive approach to improving energy performance that could be fairly easily adopted in other jurisdictions. Energy benchmarking measures use a limited government mandate to leverage market forces as a way of improving energy efficiency.

Those factors may well tempt policy makers in other cities, who are looking to burnish their civic images, to jump on the benchmarking bandwagon. "Speaking broadly, there is huge competition among municipalities to be the greenest and do the most," says Cliff Majersik, director of the Institute for Market Transformation, which advocates for energy efficiency and green measures. "It's particularly attractive in the current budget crisis. This is something even cash-strapped municipalities can do to address the market failures holding back their cities."


Benchmarking Exemptions, For the Moment

There's one loophole in New York City's requirement that buildings disclose their energy use: The mandate doesn't apply, at least for now, to buildings that have data centers, TV studios or trading floors that comprise more than 10 percent of a facility. These energy-intensive facilities will still have to benchmark, but their data will be exempt from public disclosure until the city is confident that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Portfolio Manager can accurately reflect the energy performance of these facilities. Currently, those spaces can't be rated by Portfolio Manager.

"We're not going to tell the world that your building is a poor performer if we agree that it's a known problem with the ranking," says Rohit Aggarwala, director of the NYC Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability.

Energy Star is in the process of creating a rating for data centers, both stand-alone and those located within larger facilities. Energy Star collected data from more than 120 data centers between March 2008 and June 2009. A finalized rating model is anticipated sometime this summer.

— Naomi Millán

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  posted on 3/1/2010   Article Use Policy

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