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BOMA Objects to Philadelphia City Council’s Green Score Ordinance for Commercial Buildings

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The Philadelphia City Council is on the verge of approving an ordinance that would require owners of commercial office buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to report their energy and water consumption in the form of a “green score” based on the federal government’s Energy Star program. If enacted, the ordinance would take effect on June 1, 2013. It calls for the implementation of “a Citywide program to provide for the reporting of Citywide benchmarking data online and in a manner that permits owners and tenants of [qualifying commercial office buildings], prospective purchasers and lessees, and the public to view and compare energy and water usage among comparable buildings and uses.”

But on June 5, representatives from BOMA’s Philadelphia chapter testified before the City. Although they called the ordinance “well-intentioned,” they objected to the law’s requirement that the green scores be publicly disclosed online. Specifically, BOMA is concerned that a building’s score could be deceptively low thanks to a particuluarly energy-intensive tenant (like a financial services firm or a data center) and not because the owner is doing anything particularly noxious vis-a-vis building performance.

“The bill could easily and unjustifiably apply a `scarlet letter’ to a building,” Doug Hoffman, BOMA’s chairman, testified. BOMA requested that the Council reconsider the public disclosure requirement and only require its release to prospective purchasers and tenants. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown – the bill’s sponsor – disagreed. “”It’s important for consumers to know,” she told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “For those of us who are conscientious about being sustainable, we may make judgments about where we want to conduct business.”

The Philadelphia law is actually modeled on similar benchmarking laws enacted in San Francisco, D.C., and New York City. But as we’ve noted here previously, New York’s exempts certain buildings for which public disclosure of water and energy use would be problematic (like high energy users like data centers). And failure to comply with Philadelphia’s law would be punishable by a $300 fine for the first 30 days and then $100 a day.

We’ll follow up here at GRELJ if and when the ordinance is approved, in its current form or something closer to what BOMA is pushing for.

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One Response to BOMA Objects to Philadelphia City Council’s Green Score Ordinance for Commercial Buildings

  1. Larry Spielvogel, PE, FASHRAE June 16, 2012 at 12:55 am #

    I have the metered energy and water consumption data for over 1,000 commercial buildings in Philadelphia, so I know what the results will look like. I also have metered energy data for tens of thousands of commercial buildings across the country. These are my comments on the proposed Philadelphia Energy Benchmarking Ordinance.

    The ordinance does not say who is responsible for submitting the data, and what happens if they do not. How can or will the City penalize the owner or agent if tenants refuse to provide the information? What about seasonal occupancy or seasonal tenants?

    Who will pay for the collection and publication of the data? Who will check the data submitted? How will the users know whether it is correct? What happens if someone relies on incorrect data to their detriment? Who is responsible?

    What is to prevent people from using this information to solicit the buildings? What is to prevent people from using this data incorrectly to promote their buildings? Will the data be sold or given to marketing groups?

    This will probably drive occupancy in the City down, as tenants will not want to supply this type of data, so they will locate in the suburbs where this type of personal and proprietary data is not required, and the taxes are lower.

    The EPA Portfolio Manager uses data from CBECS, and both are technically flawed. For example, many LEED® Platinum buildings cannot get an EPA Energy Star® rating. When Portfolio Manager is revised, and that is due in the near future, it will be necessary to go through the same exercise to gather new and probably more data.

    The parameters and criteria are not clear. Commercial building is not defined. Is a warehouse commercial? Is a school commercial? Is a vacant building or space commercial? What is a comparable building? There is no basis for the 50,000 square foot cutoff in mixed-use buildings. For example, a 3,000 square foot restaurant can use more energy than 50,000 square feet of offices. Some types of buildings are not even covered by EPA Portfolio Manager, such as apartment houses and condominiums.

    For example, a building with water-cooled air conditioning will use more water per square foot than a building with air-cooled air conditioning, especially with no submetering of water. What is the user of this data to understand about the reported values? How can the reported results be compared among buildings?

    The ordinance assumes that people believe there is a relationship between energy consumption and energy cost. There is no relation between energy consumption and energy cost. Some buildings are paying 8¢ per kWh while others are paying 20¢. Buildings with large parking areas will pay much more for water and sewer than buildings with no parking, but the users will not know the costs. Thus, the user will not be able to comprehend the expected costs, even when they know the consumption.

    The ordinance incorrectly assumes that it applies equally to single-tenant and multi-tenant buildings. In multi-tenant buildings with individual metering for each tenant, energy and water data are not available to the property owner, so it will not be possible to comply with this ordinance. Tenants in buildings are not obligated to provide energy and water data, since it is proprietary and will not be released without the formal written consent of the customer. Even if the data are provided, how is the property owner to know the required tenant data such as the number of computers and refrigerators, especially since that information can and will change daily. If tenants do not report their data or their reports are not accurate or correct, then the data for the building is not accurate or correct, defeating the purpose of the ordinance.

    What if the commercial space in a mixed-use building is not separately metered? How is that to be reported? What happens if the utility companies estimate consumption or skip meter readings? What good is that data?

    The proposed ordinance falsely assumes that various uses of energy have equal site and source values. The results will not be meaningful or comparable if buildings use district cooling or steam, or if steam is used for cooling. Buildings that use gas for hot water or cooking will not be properly compared with buildings that use electricity or steam. Buildings with combined heat and power and/or heat recovery cannot be compared with conventional systems.

    No two people can determine the square footage or operating hours of a building to within 10%. It is not clear whether federal, state, and local government owned or occupied buildings are covered. Wait until the regulators issue regulations implementing the ordinance.

    Before considering an ordinance, conduct and publish a pilot study on all City owned and leased building.

    In summary, compliance with this ordinance will be a huge waste of effort and the results will not be meaningful or useful. Please do not help us anymore!

    Larry Spielvogel, PE, FASHRAE

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