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In New York, Local Law 84, which passed in 2009, requires owners of buildings of at least 50,000 square feet (10,000 square feet for city buildings) to report to the city their energy use. In some cases, it has been a problem to get accurate data reported under the program.
According to a benchmarking report from the city released in August 2012, the median Energy Star score for New York's buildings was 64.
Lindsay Audin, president of Energywiz, Inc., has worked with many building owners in the city. While Audin supports the concept of benchmarking, he points to a basic shortcoming in the city's regulation: The fine for not complying is only $500 per year, per building. With that as a benchmark, many building owners who hire an outside expert to assist in their measurement efforts aren't going to pay much more than about $500 per building for the services. While that may be adequate in a facility with one gas or electric account, in a building with numerous energy accounts, the calculation becomes more complicated. However, few consultants are going to spend hours of work when their fee tops off at about $500.
As a result, it appears that some of the energy data submitted were off, Audin says, noting that he's come across buildings that were decades old, with single-pane glass and T12 lighting, initially achieving Energy Star scores topping 90. In other words, the facility was supposedly more efficient than 90 percent of comparable facilities. In the facilities in which Audin corrected that analysis, many scores dropped significantly.
The city's benchmarking report states "common errors compromised the accuracy of about 15-25 percent of the data." The inaccuracies appear to be honest mistakes, not deliberate attempts to mislead.
The reason for the high scores in the first place? Audin says that many office buildings contain directly metered tenants, such as restaurants or dry cleaners, whose energy bills are not included in the building's main energy account. However, these tenants' square footage was included in the facilities' overall square footage. With energy use (the numerator in the equation) lower than it actually was, while square footage (the denominator) was higher than it should have been, energy use per square foot ended up looking better than it was.
Of course, no system of building labeling is going to be perfect. However, "bad data is worse than no data," Audin says, and may lead to actions that do more harm than good.
As these programs mature and improve, it should become easier for building owners to obtain accurate energy consumption data and use it to improve their buildings' energy performance, and to explain the facility's energy use to potential business partners. "Our goals for the program are greater transparency of data in the hands of the building owner, so they can act on it," Baker says.
Karen Kroll, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, is a freelance writer who has written extensively about real estate and facility issues.
New York's Local Law 84 Requires Large Commercial Buildings To Report Energy Use