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Transparency laws a better path on energy

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/11/12 @ 1:00pm  |  Posted in Clean energy

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Just exposing to the light of day how much energy buildings use is a strong motivator for conservation and efficiency efforts, cities and states are finding. The new movement is being hailed as an MPG label for buildings.

Cities including D.C., New York, Seattle and Austin are turning to new transparency laws for monitoring public, and sometimes private building energy use. They expect peer pressure and public opinion to drive change even quicker than heavy handed measures.

“They hope that just disclosing energy use patterns will lead to changes in behavior, and there’s reason to believe that they may be right,” Environmental Building News reports in its August 2012 issue.

While it’s too soon to tell how much public disclosure laws—and ranking buildings with Energy Star scores—are driving energy savings and market demand, evidently cities that ask for and expose the data are seeing more of a sea change.

In New York City, where data on 3,000 private buildings was made public this fall, the pre-dawn skyline is noticeably darker, EBN writes. There’s “a new level of cooperation between landlords and tenants” who share a concern about potential bad publicity and being branded an energy hog.

In Seattle, energy data is limited to when a building sells or leases. The city still requires the building owners send them the data, but it gets aggregated. Seattle’s energy benchmarking policy builds off a Washington State law for transactional disclosure.

Interesting side note: Ohio has a state policy requiring public buildings to track and report energy use. In 2007, Governor Strickland made it his second executive order, requiring all state agencies to track and reduce energy use by 5 percent in the first year, and 15 percent by the end of his four-year term (don’t know if that ever happened or if the current administration rescinded the order…more on that below).

Cleveland could dip its toe in the energy reporting waters, building off Ohio’s public disclosure policy.

Again in Seattle, annual energy reporting is credited with launching a massive carbon reduction effort branded under the Architecture 2030 District. This time, it was a voluntary, private initiative where building owners controlling 25 million sq ft. of space share real-time energy and water data, with a goal of 50% reduction, EBN reports.

A group of volunteers through the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative has also launched a downtown Cleveland 2030 District. Perhaps they will model the Seattle effort’s internal data sharing? Would a city of Cleveland energy reporting requirement be just the catalyst the city’s 2030 District needs to start a friendly energy use competition?

* * *

What ever happened to the promising energy efficiency efforts targeting Ohio government that Ted Strickland, his Energy Advisor (Mark Shanahan) and Department of Administrative Services formed with its State Energy Strategy Team and campaign to reduce energy use in state facilities?

His Energy Smart initiative had so much promise…look at their last blog post dated January 7, 2008:

When Strickland began office, he issued two executive orders; the first set standards for Ethics, and the second set energy goals for state agencies, boards and commissions. The energy goals are clear: reduced use of petroleum by state fleets and reduced use of energy in state facilities.

Executive Order 2007_02s calls for specific activities to reduce petroleum use including setting goals, implementing policies, and adopting technologies, e.g. flex-fueled vehicles and E-85 and biodiesel pumps. Among other requirements, the Order also required state agencies to audit their facilities as the first step towards reducing their energy consumption 5% by July 1 2007, 15% by July 1 2011.

Agencies are tasked with measuring and reporting their progress towards achieving these goals quarterly. All agency facilities have records in ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager, the audit tool selected to benchmark and track natural gas, electricity, fuel oil, propane and water usage. The energy awareness campaign has been kicked off. Some agencies have established internal energy teams to help meet the first year’s goals. If you have news to report, ideas to share, or are seeking information, join the effort to be ENERGY SMART.

Energy Smart is still a live link on the Ohio Department of Administrative Services web site. The Department is responsible for the following agencies’ energy use data

  • Adjutant General’s Department
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Bureau of Workers’ Compensation
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Administrative Services
  • Department of Developmental Disabilities
  • Department of Mental Health
  • Department of Natural Resources
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Public Safety
  • Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections
  • Department of Youth Services
  • Department of Job and Family Services

Are these agencies still reporting energy use from their buildings with Energy Star Portfolio Manager?

An honest effort was apparently made to track and raise awareness of energy use by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. This case study explains how PUCO struggled through the reporting (they lease a building which doesn’t have meters) but figured out a formula to track energy. The simple act of trying to report energy motivated some of the 350 employees there to try harder to reduce their use. Their IT department kicked in with a big conservation effort, and even individual action started to feel less futile.

From OEC

  • Ohio Senate Bill 315 (passed in June 2012) includes contentious parts that strip away the public's right to challenge drilling permits, but it does some good by including renewables as a qualifying energy conservation measure in a state building. It also calls for retro-commissioning to verify that existing energy systems are installed and calibrated to optimize a building's energy and operational performance.
  • Illinois has a grant program that pays for public buildings to go through a retro-commissioning process

    From the U.S. Green Building Council

    OHIO – The Ohio General Assembly has made progress this session by considering how to reward the added value that green buildings provide to their communities and to the transforming building industry. SB 50 would grant tax credits to landlords who invest in energy efficiency measures.

    Additionally, the legislature approved the Board of Building Standards’ recommendation to update the Ohio Building Code this year to match the national model energy codes for commercial buildings, consistent with 2009 federal law. For further information on green building policy in Ohio contact the USGBC chapter in your area: Central Ohio Chapter, Cincinnati Regional Chapter, Northeast Ohio Chapter, Northwest Ohio Chapter.

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