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Energy-Benchmarking Scores Go Public Next Year. Will Your Building Look Bad?

Carol Ott in Board Operations on October 9, 2012

New York City

Oct. 9, 2012

For co-ops and condos that haven't paid attention to what they can do about their building's energy usage, all of this may be just the thing to move their energy dial.

"Some of the worst multifamily buildings are using four-and-a-half times the energy as some of the best buildings," says Laurie Kerr, deputy director for energy efficiency at the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. "That's 440 percent more. It's crazy."

Crazy Eights

What's more, according to Aaron Mehta, director of energy information at FS Energy, the energy management partner of the management firm Cooper Square Realty, buildings that receive low scores and then do nothing are courting trouble. The low-scored buildings in the FS Energy portfolio, he notes, "are using eight percent more energy to heat and cool their building [than] in the prior year. Their energy efficiency decreased, their equipment aged and their energy performance got worse."

"I think the benchmarking legislation is a great way of getting the conversation started about how we can make our buildings in New York City more energy-efficient," says Jeffrey Perlman, president of Bright Power. "That one number is a reasonable way of saying which of the buildings are the most efficient and which are the least efficient. You know, a little bit of a shaming will happen when people say, ‘Oh my God, I have one of the worst buildings. I'd better fix it.' But at the same time, in order to take this to the next level and really do something actionable – and use this data to find out where the opportunities lie — you need a more sophisticated system that breaks out the data in more robust ways."

"If a board actually cares about energy, and does something, they are seeing from 20 to 25 percent improvement in efficiency and reduced costs," says Mehta, who points to two major items that can boost energy efficiency: making sure that building systems are operating properly and the type of fuel used. "Fuel change [such as going from oil to gas] doesn't in and of itself improve your score, but when projects like that are done, other systems are improved," he says.

B-B-B-BERG BERG BERG ... BERG is the Word

One of the difficulties in improving your benchmarking score is that you don't have much control over how individual residents use electricity. The score you receive from the city — and that will become public next year — includes resident use. Some consultants have recognized this and provide buildings with several scores.

FS Energy, for instance, developed the Building Energy Rating Guide (commonly called the BERG score), which is calculated only on the common areas. Bright Power provides a scorecard with multiple numbers on it, so you can focus on the number that makes sense for your situation. Each benchmarking consultant has his or her own way of providing numbers, but everyone agrees that what you see needs to be actionable.

"I view LL 84 as a real opportunity for the energy-efficiency industry to prove itself.  The government has given us a mandate and done a really good job of promoting it, and getting good compliance, and now it's up to my industry to prove the value of this," says Perlman. "If there are people who are not doing a good job of gathering high-quality data — so that it just becomes a tax or a burden — then we need to get those people out of the market. Because it's not valuable for people to just report a bunch of crappy data. It just muddies everything."


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