A city law requires that you benchmark your energy use.
Here’s how one building did it.
When the city passed a law in 2009 requiring many building owners to track their energy and water use and to benchmark it – or compare it to similar buildings – at least one condo didn’t see a burden but an opportunity.
“Benchmarking is a great way not just to comply with Local Law 84, but also a way to start looking at low and no-cost solutions to energy efficiency and to cut operating costs,” says Barani Tansy, a resident who gives advice on energy efficiency to the board at 1 Northside Piers, a 180-unit building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
At 1 Northside Piers, the board contracted with Greenwich Energy Solutions (GES) to perform the benchmarking and started collecting data in September, says Kate Grossman, president of Greenwich Energy Solutions. Local Law 84 requires benchmarking of large (over 50,000 square feet) buildings by May 1. While co-op and condo boards can submit the information themselves, most will probably hire energy consultants to perform the time-consuming work.
“Benchmarking is like going to the doctor, where they take your weight, your pulse, and get a sense of how healthy you are,” says Grossman. “We want to have a baseline to see how the building is operating and see how to improve that.”
The benchmarking process compares similarly situated buildings – those that are comparable in size and age and, most importantly, have the same type of heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and use the same type of fuel. By looking at billing data from the building’s utility, the benchmarking company can track how many kilo-BTUs per square foot are used per year. Under the draft rules of the law, buildings must report how much energy is used in common spaces and how much is used in residential units and by commercial tenants.
Because the energy use inside the apartments is considered private, individual owners or shareholders can obtain the information and submit it, but it is unlikely a building will get full compliance. The city is recommending instead that contractors go to the utility, get the total amount of energy used by the building, and subtract the amount of the common areas.
The benchmarking “tool” required by the city is an internet database system developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings, the EPA benchmarking tool has a handy 1 to 100 rating, so if your building gets a 75, that would mean you’re in the 75th percentile of energy efficiency. But, Grossman says, the EPA is still working to develop that type of score for multi-family residential buildings. Instead, the way to compare multi-family residential buildings will be to look at kilo-BTUs per square foot, she says. By September 2013 data on multi-family residential buildings will be available to the public online, a year later than its availability for commercial buildings.
“I think they want to be fair to the multi-families, there might be things that buildings want to do to become more energy efficient, but they need time to plan,” says Grossman. “In the private sector you can move more quickly and they certainly don’t want to have a negative effect on the value of people’s homes without giving them time to reply.”
In January, Greenwich Energy received some preliminary energy usage data from 2009 and 2010 for 1 Northside Piers. So far, Grossman says, the data looks good. This past summer, energy use rose. “We see that it is tracking well with what we would have expected with a hotter summer than the summer before,” says Grossman. “We want the system to track with the weather.”
When it comes to the building’s natural gas heating system, there was a measurable spike in the summer of 2009; Greenwich is still investigating the cause. She says it’s too soon to compare 1 Northside Piers to other similar buildings. “We can’t really say how it’s doing compared to other buildings until other buildings do their benchmarking too. Once we get all these buildings benchmarked then we can compare them on a granular level.”
While the city requires annual benchmarking, 1 Northside Piers is going further and is using a so-called online dashboard offered by Greenwich Energy that can give them information much more frequently. The web-based tool allows the board and managing agent to see energy usage on a monthly basis and also compare one month to that same month last year and see how energy use is affected by weather.
“It will give us, as a board, a greater ability to look at things in a real-time basis, rather than just year to year or whenever the managing agent sends us information,” says Tansy, whose day job is with Greenwich Energy Services as vice president for client services.
Tansy was not on the board when it hired Greenwich Energy Services, and she removes herself from board matters that pertain to the company. In her job, she doesn’t do benchmarking on her own building, but she does use her expertise in energy efficiency to advise the board on energy matters.
The GES Dashboard also allows the board to see whether energy efficiency projects are making an impact. For example, last fall, the building started installing motion sensor lighting in some of the common areas, spending about $14,000. (They’ll get about $5,300 back because they are participating in a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority program.) “We’ll be able to see how much money was saved and how much energy was saved,” says Tansy. From the October to November alone, there was a 10 percent reduction in kilowatt usage.
The board is contemplating putting in a temporary foyer during the cooler months to combat drafts, says Tansy. After installation, the GES Dashboard will tell them whether it’s working and whether the energy savings are worth the cost, she says. Another benefit of the dashboard is that if there is a sudden spike in energy usage that doesn’t make sense, weather-wise, the building can respond quickly. “We can look at it and say, ‘Was it a really snowy December or was something else going on?’ If it’s a simple mechanical problem then we can fix it,” Grossman says.
When it comes to tracking water usage, only buildings that have been outfitted with automatic meter-reading equipment need to comply. Grossman says many building owners, managers or boards don’t even know if their building has the new equipment.
One Northside Piers is facing a complicated and unique situation when it comes to its water meter because there is a dispute between the building and New York City Water Board over the meter. If your building does have the new automatic meters, Grossman says, they automatically upload data to the EPA benchmarking system. She says she suspects 1 Northside Piers does have the new meter, but the dispute is still being ironed out.
Basic benchmarking should cost a building about $500 annually. Adding features like the online dashboard can bring it up to $2,000 a year.
Tansy says benchmarking is more than just complying with the law. “It’s also about education; the next step is how you can take this information and what you can do in your own apartment,” she says.
After data starts coming in monthly from the online dashboard, the board will be sending out information on how residents can cut back on their own energy usage, from doing laundry at off-peak times to installing shades that will cut down on drafts. Concludes Tansy: “It’s about how we can come together as a community and cut down in our own daily lives.”
In concept, benchmarking sounds simple. If your building has to comply with the new law, you’ll need to gather 12 consecutive months of energy and water bills. With that in hand, you’ll create an account in “Portfolio Manager,” an online interactive energy management tool, and enter your building’s information. Once entered, you’ll submit your information to New York City, using a direct link in Portfolio Manager. Your building’s annual energy use per square foot, normalized to New York City, will be posted in September 2013. If the law covers your building, you’ll have to benchmark your 2010 energy use, or you will be in violation and will receive a fine. The due date is May 1, 2011. While this sounds simple, the devil is in the information-gathering details. Here is what you need to do to get started:
1. If your building is 50,000 square feet or greater, you should have received a letter from the New York City Department of Finance (DOF) informing you that your building must comply with the benchmarking law
(http://tinyurl.com/benchmarking-notify). Note that the DOF square footage is not gross square footage (GSF), and the GSF is the number you will be using to benchmark. The DOF directs you to http://www.nyc.gov/GGBP for a detailed explanation of the law. If you haven’t received a letter but want to check anyway, the DOF has posted a list of all buildings that must comply. You can access it at: http://tinyurl.com/coveredBldgs
2. To read a detailed summary of the bill, go here:
3. To request your building’s consumption data from Con Ed, you need to e-mail a request to
email@example.com along with a common area account number associated with your building. You’ll need to include the name on the account and all the service addresses associated with your building. If owners in your building are directly metered, and you are acting on their behalf, you’ll need a letter of authorization. It costs $102.50 per building to obtain this information, and they will e-mail it to you within 15 days of payment being processed. You can learn more about this process at: http://tinyurl.com/consumptioninfo. If your building is a National Grid customer, call 718-643-4050.
4. For buildings with commercial tenants who are metered separately, you’ll need to request information about their energy consumption. There is a form to give them, and you can get it here:
5. Now that you have gathered your information, it’s time to log in to Portfolio Manager. You can do so here http://tinyurl.com/PortfolioMgr, or through a link at http://www.nyc.gov/GGBP.
6. You may want to review the quick reference guide located here: http://tinyurl.com/PtfolioReference. This will give you an overview of what you are going to be doing.
7. An Energy Star Portfolio Manager Data Collection Worksheet is also provided as a download. It’s accessible from here: http://tinyurl.com/PMstarterkit
While the benchmarking process has lots of information available online, the energy novice may find him or herself confused. A small industry of professionals has emerged to take care of the benchmarking process for you. The going rate for information gathering and submission ranges from $1,000 to $2,000 per building, and many professionals provide ongoing benchmarking so you can track the results of your energy-saving initiatives.
If you would like to tackle the project yourself, or get up to benchmarking speed to oversee someone else’s work, you can read the Benchmarking Compliance Checklist and Users guide. You’ll find it here:
— Carol J. Ott