ConstructionPro Week, Volume: Construction Advisor Today - Issue: 125 - 09/16/2011

New Resolution Intended to Boost Energy Efficiency in Commercial Buildings

A group of regulatory utility commissioners has adopted a resolution that is designed to promote energy-efficiency improvements in commercial buildings across the United States. Specifically, the new National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) resolution encourages state public utility commissions (PUCs) to provide commercial building owners with access to whole-building energy-consumption data to support energy-efficient building operations. However, Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International Vice President of Advocacy Karen Penafiel admitted to Green Building Insider (GBI) that it is “not going to be easy” getting the resolution implemented.  


BOMA, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and other members of the Data Access and Transparency Alliance (DATA) have been calling for building owners to have access to aggregate building energy consumption data, as it concerns building owners’ ability to manage energy efficiency and comply with the growing number of state/local mandatory benchmarking and disclosure requirements.


Currently, many building owners lack access to energy consumption data for separately metered tenant spaces in their buildings, and because the tenant owns the data, most utilities only will provide tenant energy-consumption data to the owner/manager with the permission of the tenant. In a large building with many separately metered tenants, it is not considered practical to obtain potentially hundreds of signatures. The resolution is designed to give building owners and tenants the capacity to make informed decisions to drive energy-efficiency improvements while the aggregate nature of the data protects the privacy of tenants.


To convince key officials and stakeholders that any benchmarking requirements imposed on building owners should include whole building data access, BOMA, USGBC, the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), and the Real Estate Roundtable (RER) formed DATA, which includes property management companies and other environmental groups and state policy makers and regulators.


“We celebrate NARUC’s decision to make this important data available to building owners and managers,” commented BOMA International Chairperson Boyd Zoccola. “Improving access to building energy-consumption data will help property professionals achieve greater understanding of energy-consumption patterns and make our building stock more efficient and sustainable.”


“Poor access to energy data is a fundamental barrier to making commercial buildings more energy efficient,” said Andrew Burr, director of IMT’s Building Energy Rating Program. “We applaud NARUC for approving this important and timely resolution.”


“Building owners and their tenants depend on timely, accurate, and transparent data to benchmark energy consumption and undertake retrofits to save money through building retrofits,” RER President and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey DeBoer said. “The NARUC resolution sends a strong message that building owners, utilities, and regulators must work cooperatively to bridge the energy-data gap as the necessary first step to improve the efficiency of our built environment.”

“This resolution acknowledges a very real problem -- getting the data necessary to put a stop to wasting energy in commercial buildings,” USGBC Technical Policy Director Lane Wesley Burt said. “Commercial building owners and operators are looking for opportunities to save energy, and this resolution will be very helpful in removing the barriers to allow leadership in energy efficiency in their facilities.”


NARUC’s resolution also encourages state PUCs to consider a comprehensive benchmarking policy that includes the following: use of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star automated benchmarking services; adoption of methodologies to consistently and accurately credit program impact to benchmarking-driven energy-efficiency programs; and the undertaking of all “reasonable” measures to facilitate “convenient,” electronic access to utility energy usage data for building owners.


BOMA Official Provides Additional Comments

In an email interview with GBI, Penafiel provided the following additional information about the resolution and its implications:

GBI: In your opinion, how difficult of a barrier do states face in trying to implement the resolution? Do most states have laws in place blocking direct access to whole-building energy-use data?


Penafiel: It’s not going to be easy. The problem is not that states block direct access to whole-building energy data use, though there are privacy laws that prevent individual meter readings from going to other entities. The main issue is that most utilities are not set up to provide aggregate data from multiple meters, and to be able to do so requires making an upgrade to their billing system, which then needs to be paid for. For example, in Illinois, legislation was passed requiring utilities to provide the aggregate energy-consumption data. The issue then went to the Illinois Commerce Commission to implement the regulation. For ComEd to comply, it took a software “fix” to enable their metering and billing systems to communicate to pull all of the meters at a single address or a campus of buildings. This incurred costs, which the utility was allowed to recover through a public-good surcharge. While it can be done, it is a cumbersome process. Even if we were successful in enacting legislation at the national level, each state and [PUC] would still need to write and implement the specific regulations.
GBI: How much opposition from tenant-advocacy groups and/or others has your organization encountered about this resolution/proposed policy? Who, if anybody, has been complaining about the proposal?


Penafiel: We have not received any opposition to date, at least not on the merits of the issue. In fact, we’ve received widespread affirmation that this is a big issue that needs to be resolved. Our biggest challenge is to educate all of the various stakeholders. Many do not even realize building owners don’t own the data or have access to it. The impediment is how utilities pay for the cost of upgrading their billing systems. Though ComEd’s cost was relatively small in relation to the benefits it provided, it still is a real cost, and those issues must be addressed. Also, the privacy issues must be addressed. If building owners can’t get access to monthly metering data, how are they ever going to be able to take advantage of the benefits of the Smart Grid, where pricing signals will be sent continuously?
GBI: What estimates, if any, have been made about how much energy or money could be saved, either for a typical commercial building or the building sector overall, if states implement this resolution?

Penafiel: Saving money is one key benefit, but not the only one. For the building owner, having the necessary tools to make decisions and prioritize energy-efficiency projects is extremely important, and the end results could easily result in a consumption reduction of 20-30 percent. The overall benefit to the building sector would be tremendous, both in terms of cost savings and carbon reduction. For the utility, there is also the added benefit that they now have the complete picture, for the first time, on how the building (their customer) is using (and possibly wasting) energy, and this allows the utility to provide better customer service by tailoring their [demand-side-management] programs to meet the building’s needs, thus accomplishing the utility’s goal of demand reduction.
GBI: Your organization stated that the resolution gives building owners and tenants the capacity to make informed decisions to drive energy-efficiency improvements. Which energy-efficiency improvements likely would be undertaken most often if this resolution is implemented? Primarily through installation of more efficient light bulbs?

Penafiel: Lighting retrofits are still probably the most common energy-efficiency retrofit and are considered to be the “low-hanging fruit.” However, while our first goal is to encourage building owners and managers to get started with the no- and low-cost improvements, we also want to encourage and incentivize deep retrofits.
GBI: What other resolutions, if any, is NARUC considering or has adopted within the past three months that pertain in some way to green buildings and/or energy efficiency? What details can you provide about these other resolutions?


Penafiel: I don’t have the information on this.

GBI: Other comments?


Penafiel: NARUC’s adoption of the resolution was an important first step. BOMA International and our coalition partners, including [IMT, RER, and USGBC], are committed to educating all stakeholders -- including members of the U.S. Congress, state legislators, public-utility commissioners, and utilities -- on the importance of whole-building aggregate energy data for benchmarking buildings and driving energy efficiency in our nation’s existing building stock.




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