Friday, March 29, 2013

Energy Disclosure is Coming to Boston

The USGBC MA Chapter is happy to promote, support and advocate for public disclosure of energy use in Boston. According to the recent proposal, over the next four years, different types and sizes of buildings will report their energy use score (using EPA's Energy Star Portfolio Manager) into a public database. The city will rate all the buildings it owns starting in 2013. The information will be used to help the city's Energy and Environment Office, led by former USGBC MA Board VP Brian Swett, to craft incentives and programs to help owners embrace energy efficiency measures. It will not be used to force anyone to do anything, just to report their building's energy use. One of our members, Chris Liston, Director of Energy and Sustainability at CBRE New England, noted that for his clients in New York, reporting for the entire year can be done in about 30 minutes. 

I went to City Hall on Thursday, March 28, to submit supportive testimony to the City Council, which will be voting on the ordinance in the near future. We believe the ordinance will lead to better building values, better tenant experiences, better building operating practices, reduced waste of energy, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, among other things. Some organizations, including Boston's Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), came out against the ordinance, which was puzzling. Industry leaders like Partners Healthcare and Boston Properties spoke in support of the ordinance. It seemed like a lot of the opposition just didn't understand the program. It was too bad, but the USGBC MA Chapter is here to help people learn more and get more support behind the measure.

The ordinance is somewhat like telling people to go weigh themselves when you care about their health. If someone knows their weight, they might decide to start exercising or eating better. But some people just don't even want to know things. And this ordinance isn't even like telling anyone you have to go to the gym - just to get weighed!

Our testimony is on this page, in the news and announcement section of our website. You can also see me, near the beginning, in this video. The city has a lot of info on the ordinance at the Energy and Environmental Services Office.

Below is the famous Boston City Hall—the civic building that everyone loves to deride. It is a bit dingy, but it serves the purpose. A lot of important work goes on there and the needs of the city are met by the Mayor, the City Council, and the many municipal employees working for Boston.

Below is the City Council Chamber. The table in the foreground was for panelists to submit testimony. I did not get a picture of myself. There on the right side of the table is Darien Crimmin, member of the Chapter and VP for Sustainability and Energy at Winn Development, testifying on behalf of energy disclosure. His firm measures and scores their buildings with Energy Star Portfolio Manager in order to make better management decisions about where to invest in physical plant improvements and energy efficiency projects.

One of the criticisms of the proposal came from a study, funded by BOMA, by Robert Stavins, a researcher at Harvard. His conclusion was that no city where an ordinance exists has been able to show a measurable decrease in energy use. One response to this is that these laws have only just been implemented and it's reasonable to have not seen appreciable savings yet. Advocates point to the fact that industry leaders are already using disclosure and energy scoring to save money and make investments in energy efficiency. BOMA Boston suggests that the market is the best encouragement for this, rather than a city-mandated policy.

We were disappointed at so much negative reaction from the conventional real estate world. One advocacy entity had revved up the reactionaries in the condominium association world. Many small condo association representatives came to complain about potential cost burdens on their residents. 

I am afraid the term "assessment," i.e. "energy assessment" was confused with the red-letter financial "assessment" concept that poorly managed condominium associations occasionally levy on their members to handle unplanned-for capital improvements. 

It was a real shame. The proposed ordinance only affects multi-family properties and/or condo associations with more than 25 units—of which there are only about 250 in the city, reports Brian Swett—not the thousands that association reps were claiming. The ordinance does not affect single-family homes. One confused broker mentioned that having an energy score on a unit or house would be a major hassle for sellers—they already have to disclose lead and radon; adding energy efficiency to the mix could provide prospective buyers with more information than they could handle. The pro- side of the ordinance gave a round of applause on that one. 

One opposition heavyweight (below) came to testify near the end - David Begelfer, CEO of NAIOP - the Commercial Real Estate Development Association of Boston. He argued that Boston should stay out of the real estate markets and let best practices reward the right players.

Brian Koop, VP at Boston Properties, came up with a good analogy. He noted that his kids love to play basketball. They play ball in the driveway with other kids in the neighborhood. When he comes home, driving down the street, he can instantly tell whether the kids are keeping score or just playing around. When you keep track of the score, he said, you play differently. You play better. He talked about how his firm is serious about energy efficiency and uses Portfolio Manager to keep track of the performance of their properties, all of which guides important, asset-improving investments. He urged the city to help other firms get serious about improving their operations using energy disclosure as well.

One important note that came through was that owners and traditional real estate folks felt like they had not been involved in the process enough, and they wanted the ordinance to be less punitive. They wanted to be at the table. I'm not sure exactly how industry was involved in the drafting of the ordinance in Boston, but, I can see how a more inclusionary process might have worked better and muted much of the resistance—so much of it was irrelevant rants from misinformed activists, but that's democracy for you!

USGBC's national advocacy lead, Jeremy Sigmon, wrote to me: "Property owners in many cities, including San Francisco, Seattle and New York City, worked hand-in-hand with city officials to develop recommendations on benchmarking and disclosure ordinances. Local ordinances have been supported by Real Estate Board of New York and BOMA San Francisco. From BOMA San Francisco: "Our property owners initially thought, 'Oh, this is going to be horrible' ... but there's been no blowback, if you will, from property owners," said Ken Cleaveland, a vice president with BOMA San Francisco. "It's just been a non-issue, quite frankly."

I was glad to represent the Chapter at City Hall. It was a valuable learning experience for me and I met a lot of good people working on this disclosure ordinance. Thank you to the Chapter's Advocacy Interest Group for pulling together our testimony—Norm Lamonde and Greg Sampson principally. Thank you to Brian Swett for arranging me to be on one of the support panels. I look forward to working with the coalition to make energy disclosure a reality here in Boston, and beyond.

As I left, I noticed a lot of media coverage of the event. I knew it was contentious, but I didn't realize energy disclosure was such a hot-button issue!

(Well, actually, it did happen to be the same afternoon Mayor Menino announced his retirement...)


  1. Nice work and good reporting Grey, this is definitely a step in the right direction and an important part of Mayor Meinino's legacy to Boston. In my opinion it will become part of the corporate sustainability metric that gives investors another way to value properties. For most people in Commercial Real Estate I would think having a way to showplace their buildings quality should definitely be a plus.

  2. Energie besparen, de noodzaak:

    De potentie van zonne-energie is enorm. Als de mensheid er in slaagt om slechts een fractie van de dagelijkse hoeveelheid zonne-energie die op onze aardbol valt effectief en efficiënt om te zetten in elektriciteit of warmte, dan zijn economie en ecologie daar enorm mee geholpen. Geen wonder dat er massaal wordt ingezet op de ontwikkeling van nieuwe technologie en dat veel energie en geld wordt geïnvesteerd in het verhogen van productiviteit en rentabiliteit van technische oplossingen onder andere in zonnepanelen om energie besparen te realisren. De doorbraak klopt aan onze maatschappelijke deur. Wie zorgt er uiteindelijk voor de doorbraak? Wanneer precies? Met welke technologie? Deze en andere vragen blijven naar verwachting nog wel even onbeantwoord. Omdat een grootschalige doorbraak van vele factoren, mensen en middelen afhankelijk is. Zonne-energie is enorm in beweging en dit overzicht is slechts een momentopname. De fysieke potentie van zonne-energie (vallend op de continenten) is 1800 maal de hoeveelheid primaire wereldwijde energie consumptie van 2007. Dat is ruim 9 maal meer dan de eerstvolgende duurzame technologie: wind.
    Om de capaciteit van alle bestaande kolencentrales in de wereld te vervangen, is 1800 maal de hoeveelheid zonne-energie nodig (in geproduceerde kWh) die in 2010 wereldwijd wordt geproduceerd. FirstSolar (USA) is met 10% van de wereldproductie de grootste PVproducent. Suntech Power (China) is nummer twee met 7%. In 2007 nam China het stokje over van Japan als grootste producent van zonnepanelen. Kleinere producenten zullen naar verwachting de komende jaren onder druk komen te staan. De top tien producenten (waarvan een flink aantal in Duitsland zijn gevestigd) zijn nu samen al goed voor 47% van de totale productie en dit aandeel zal volgens Roland Berger stijgen tot 60%. Deze gevestigde orde heeft al 80% van hun productie ondergebracht in Azië, waar de productiekosten gemiddeld 50% lager zijn. Deutsche Bank schat dat rond 2008 de feed-in tarieven de drijvende kracht zijn geweest achter 75% van de wereldwijde PV-installaties. Inclusief het nieuwe feed-in van het Verenigd Koninkrijk in 2010, hanteren op dit moment 75 landen een feed-in beleid. In Nederland worden subsidies op zonnestroom betaald uit algemene middelen. In het nieuwe regeerakkoord van september 2010 wordt een feed-in tarief aangekondigd, gebaseerd op een opslag op grijze stroom. Energie besparen maakt Nederland leefbaarder.


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