Seattle's Energy Benchmarking Law Is Part Of Push To Reduce Energy Use
About 800 miles up the coast, the city of Seattle passed an energy benchmarking law in 2010, phasing it in over the past few years, says Rebecca Baker, energy benchmarking program manager with the city. It's one of several strategies put in place to reduce the city's energy use 20 percent between 2008 and 2020. The policy applies to owners of commercial and multifamily buildings of at least 20,000 square feet.
One unique feature of the program is that the city isn't publicly disclosing the data it receives, Baker says. The city will use the information to monitor changes in energy use, which will help guide future energy policies.
In addition, a building owner must make data available if a current or prospective purchaser, tenant or lender requests it. "The goal of the disclosure is to encourage the information to be available in the market,"Baker says. "Our community wanted the building owner to have a conversation with the folks engaged in the building, to have a discussion in context."
Because the last group of building owners — those with commercial and multifamily facilities between 20,000 and 50,000 square feet — just began reporting in April, it's too soon to identify any shift in energy use, Baker notes. Anecdotally, however, Baker says she's heard of building owners taking steps to boost energy performance.
While Seattle's program contains an enforcement mechanism — the ability to levy fines of up to $1,000 per building, accruing each quarter — the goal really is to encourage compliance, Baker says. Education has played a key role in this. Baker and her colleagues have reached out to building owners to explain the program and provide technical assistance, through free workshops on Portfolio Manager and a staffed helpline to help building owners connect with local utilities.
As a result, the compliance rate for buildings of 50,000 or more square feet currently tops 90 percent for 2011 data. Reporting errors have been addressed through outreach to building owners. The information is directly transmitted from Portfolio Manager to the city, without the need for re-keying. This also reduces the chances for errors.
Across the country, Washington D.C.'s energy benchmarking regulation was finalized in January, with the first reporting deadline in April of this year, says Duer-Balkind. The information will be available online later this year.
Although it's too early to know for sure, he estimates that more than 60 percent of buildings complied on time. "There's a lot of interest and excitement,"he says. That's especially true in the office sector, and less so among multi-family facilities, where more outreach is needed, Duer-Balkind says.
While the District will complete more in-depth testing, an early review indicates that "a lot of buildings are performing well,"Duer-Balkind says. He theorizes that many buildings already had been benchmarking and boosting energy efficiency.
The fine for noncompliance can be up to $100 daily, although the focus is on outreach and education to encourage compliance, Duer-Balkind notes.