Numbers crunch. May 1 is the deadline for co-op and condo boards to submit their annual water- and energy-use benchmarking data for 2021. In addition to determining a building’s energy-efficiency letter grade, the data will also be used to determine whether a building meets the carbon-emission limits of the Climate Mobilization Act. Starting in 2024, those that don’t comply will face hefty fines, so it’s crucial to verify that the information you’re submitting is accurate.
Doing the math. Benchmarking hinges on two sets of information: the amount of oil, gas, steam and electricity consumed for heat, lighting and building operations; and the building’s square footage. The two numbers yield a ratio measuring energy usage per square foot. If a co-op or condo accurately reports its energy data but accidentally undercounts its square footage — by not including the basement, for example — the numbers will indicate that less space is consuming more energy, resulting in a poorer letter grade and potential fines down the line.
Deep dive. In addition to submitting the correct square footage, it’s important to provide an accurate breakdown of your building’s space usage — from the number of residential units to amenities like a parking garage to commercial space — since the city’s benchmarking calculations are based on those specific measurements. “Each space type is allowed a different amount of carbon emissions,” says Michael Scorrano, the managing director at the En-Power Group, an energy engineering firm. “For example, a commercial space like a restaurant or supermarket has a higher carbon allowance per square foot than a residential space, while a garage or basement has a very small allotment.”
Checking the stats. That’s why boards need to bring in an engineer to measure their building’s square footage and space-usage types annually. “It used to be that everyone just took the square footage for their building that’s listed by the Department of Finance, but that’s for tax purposes and is a different measurement than what the Department of Buildings is looking at when grading your building,” says Sean Stettin, a senior analyst at Aurora Energy Advisors. Once your engineer signs off, the data can then be uploaded to the Environmental Protection Agency’s online benchmarking platform, Energy Star Portfolio Manager, before it is released to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability for review.
Extra step. Boards should also ask their benchmarking consultants to review the data submitted by Con Edison on their building’s energy-usage to make sure there are no errors. “There have been issues with its smart meters, which don’t always work properly,” Stettin says. “And once the pandemic started, Con Edison stopped sending out meter readers, so bills are often estimates — and not necessarily accurate. And you want to make sure Con Edison hasn’t reported another building’s energy usage to your building.”
The bottom line? “It’s very common for buildings and sometimes for utility companies to submit data that’s incorrect,” Scorrano says. “But with fines looming, boards are going to have to start going over the numbers with a fine-tooth comb.”