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Energy Benchmarking: If the Data Isn't Accurate, Is the Law Any Good?

Jennifer V. Hughes in Green Ideas on January 21, 2014

New York City, Glen Oaks Village, Queens

Jan. 21, 2014

Mitchell Ingerman, president of Aurora Energy Advisors, an energy consultant company that is on track to do 1,500 LL84 submissions this year, says some of the data — expressed as Energy Use Intensity (EUI) scores — is problematic. For example, he claims that thousands of buildings have probably underreported energy usage because they only benchmarked common-area energy usage, not common areas plus the energy used inside apartments.

Internal Data at Odds

At the management company FirstService Residential, energy experts used the Local Law 84 data with their own internal benchmarking to discover trends and problems. One client condominium was found to be performing exceptionally well when it came to common areas, reports Aaron Mehta, director of energy information for the company. But the official benchmarking score made it one of the worst performers in the firm's portfolio. Mehta says they realized that almost every unit in this condo had large wraparound balconies, and the likely cause of energy loss was owners leaving windows and doors open.

Overall, FirstService's multifamily buildings are performing seven percent better than they were in the first year of benchmarking, according to Mehta. "It's very early in the game, and we're just getting the chance to look at this data and see what we can do with it," he says.

One of the clear benefits of the LL84 program is that it brings the issues into focus. "The true value of the entire process is to start a conversation among board members and residents and their managing agents," says Ingerman. "It's about taking a look at the score, whether it's good or not so good, [and saying,] 'Let's talk about our energy consumption and what we should do about it.'" 

A Greener Future 

Some are optimistic about what the LL84 program can achieve in the future. "Automated utility data uploading would be great," says Laurie Kerr, the former deputy director for Green Buildings and Energy Efficiency at the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.

Kerr, who is now director of the City Energy Project at the National Resources Defense Council, adds: "Right now, it's a pain in the neck, but if they hear it from the co-op and condo community that they want it automated because it improves accuracy, that would do a lot. Everyone has always admitted that this is a work in progress and two things need to happen for this to really get traction: The data needs to be more accurate and more accessible."

Right now, it's a pain in

the neck, but if the co-op

and condo community

wants it automated for

accuracy, that would do a lot.

But some think that the whole program should be reconsidered. Bob Friedrich, board president of the 110-building, 10,000-resident Glen Oaks Village co-op in Queens, questions the law itself. He argues that it is a clear case of the government interfering with the rights of individuals to make their own decisions. "In an ideal world, we would all have new boilers," he says. "But we don't live in an ideal world. We have finite resources, and co-ops have to make decisions [about where to allocate those resources] every day. Unlike the city, we can't borrow unlimited amounts of money to do these things. To say we need a new boiler when what we really need is to put in new ramps for our seniors [is wrong]. That's for an elected board of representatives to decide."

Others say such criticism misses the point of the program. Cliff Majersik, executive director of the energy-efficiency think tank the Institute for Market Transformation, believes the best thing a board can do with the benchmarking information is to engage in what he describes as "coopitition," both cooperating and competing with similar buildings. "Work with a neighboring building or a building that you know is similar to your own, and reach out to their board," he suggests. "Tell them, 'I'll give you my numbers for two years if you give me yours,' and throw down the gauntlet to see who can improve their scores more."

Concludes Aurora's Ingerman: "It's about taking a look at the score, whether it's good or not so good [and saying], 'Let's talk about our energy consumption and what we should do about it.'"


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