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City Energy Benchmarking Law Provides Real Benefit

(May 2013) The article below, by Judith Mondre, was posted on the web site of the Philadelphia Business Journal on May 9, 2013.

Last year, Philadelphia joined a growing number of cities—including New York, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, DC—that have adopted laws requiring commercial building owners to gather and report data on energy use in their buildings. Though the City is still developing final regulations for what is known as the Energy Benchmarking Law, the law applies to any building with 50,000 square feet of interior, commercial-use space. Building owners will need to collect data (including from tenants) on electric, oil, natural gas, steam, and water usage, and upload that data into the EPA's ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager system. Annual statements of energy performance must be made available to potential renters or buyers.

Commercial building owners might groan at the thought of another government reporting requirement, but in this case they should applaud. The Energy Benchmarking Law is legislation for the right reason. If Philadelphia's experience resembles other cities with similar laws—and we have every reason to think it will—commercial property owners who comply with the law will significantly reduce energy use and cost, increase sustainability, and gain a competitive advantage when it comes time to rent or sell. The Energy Benchmarking Law will make Philadelphia more competitive and more attractive to business development, and will contribute to job growth.

Energy benchmarking laws work because reporting energy use data and making it publicly available injects a powerful dose of information into the commercial property market place. When building energy data is uploaded, the ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager generates an ENERGY STAR® rating that compares that building's efficiency against other similar buildings nationally. When potential renters or buyers can understand a building's energy use—and readily compare it with others—they can make more fully informed decisions about where they want to locate. Buildings with greater energy efficiency are more attractive to potential renters and buyers. Some studies suggest energy efficient buildings are also more attractive to employees as places to work.

Benchmarking also provides a powerful tool to building owners and managers, allowing them to understand how, when, and where energy is used over time. With this knowledge, it is possible to develop cost-effective energy efficiency strategies. Many of these strategies are relatively simple to implement, and generate savings many times their initial cost. As just one example, the Empire State Building in New York City implemented a comprehensive energy efficiency retrofit program reported to reduce energy use by 38 percent, saving $4.4 million a year, and generating more than 250 jobs. Building owners in Seattle report energy savings of between 15 and 30 percent, thanks to that city's energy benchmarking law.

Energy benchmarking makes business sense, and is an important part of the Nutter Administration's efforts to make Philadelphia America's greenest city. There's a strong sense of momentum to these efforts, from the innovation represented by the Energy Efficient Building Hub at the Navy Yard to neighborhood-based efforts in recycling and tree planting. The Energy Benchmarking Law is an important part of this overall effort that citizens, businesses, and property owners should embrace.