Chicago Benchmarking: FTW or PITA?
Nov 19, 2013

Times are tough for property owners and managers in Chicago

If you’re a property owner or manager in Chicago, you might be feeling as if you can’t get a break. You’ve tried everything to make smart investments to lower your buildings’ energy costs over the long term, but in the meantime, the costs keep increasing while your revenues remain flat (if you’re lucky.)

A lot of property owners and managers feel like they’ve been dealt one blow after another by the City of Chicago with its seemingly constant streams of ordinances requiring investments in renovations or retrofits, increased taxes and rebate cuts. So, it’s understandable then, why so many feel like the City is adding insult to injury with its recently passed Energy Benchmarking ordinance.

Basically, the ordinance requires residential and municipal buildings that are 50,000 square feet or greater to monitor their building’s energy use and report it on a yearly basis. Every 3 years, each building is required to have their energy data verified by the City through a licensed architect, engineer or other professionally certified class recognized by the City.

The ordinance is intended for the City to collect information about energy use within the City to encourage investments in energy efficiency projects. The idea is that it will ultimately save buildings money, create local jobs and reduce carbon emissions.

AUS - Is Chicago’s Benchmarking ordinance a big (PITA) Pain-In-The-<i>you know what..?

Sure, you’ve done some ‘low-hanging fruit’ energy efficiency measures such as lighting upgrades, installing energy efficient appliances, tightening building envelopes and adjusting thermostats in your common areas. But as much as you might want to invest in some major energy efficiency upgrades, you may not be in any position to make an investment that could take at least nine years or more to see a return on your investment.

Some people who are against the benchmarking ordinance are concerned that special assessments could have negative impacts on property values. Others are concerned that they’re being forced to ‘go green’ and spend more. A lot of property owners and managers who’ve already made significant energy efficiency upgrades are also concerned how the benchmarking ordinance will affect them.

There’s ambiguity to deal with as well. How will the City use all the benchmarking data? How are property owners and managers supposed to collect it? No one seems to know the answers to these fairly basic questions.

Benchmarking mandates are complicated. It can be especially difficult for multi-family residential buildings to acutely monitor usage and enforce compliance. Chicago has joined the list of cities (New York City, Washington DC, Boston, and Seattle) which require multi-family residential buildings to do this. Generally, tracking and disclosure information for multi-family residential buildings follow what is established for commercial buildings. But it can be very difficult for owners and managers of these buildings to accurately monitor usage and enforce compliance. There are exemptions these buildings could use to avoid benchmarking if necessary.

Mandating benchmarking is still very new and there currently is no standardization. Each city has its own unique requirements. Due to its sheer complexity, there are several issues surrounding Chicago’s benchmarking ordinance that still need to be ironed out over time and it’s going to take several years.

Benchmarking: (FTW) For-The-Win?

Benchmarking is essentially the disclosure of energy usage data. By providing large building owners and operators with information regarding their buildings’ energy use, and allowing them to compare their patterns of energy consumption over time to that of other similar buildings, it will support the decision to voluntarily make energy efficiency improvements when and where they’re needed.

It’s important to note that benchmarking ordinances do not require that any actual energy efficiency updates be made. Even so, research studies indicate that the majority of benchmarked buildings (70%) voluntarily reduce their energy consumption.

In 2012, an EPA analysis of 35,000 benchmarking buildings throughout the nation found that these buildings saved, on average, 2.4% annually in energy use with an average 7% savings over three years. According to the report, “if all buildings in the U.S. followed a similar trend, over 18 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents could be saved each year.”

The verdict?

So, is Chicago’s Benchmarking FTW, a PITA or a combination of both? Whatever your stance on the issue is, we understand exactly where you’re coming from. Benchmarking is extremely complicated at this point. And while efforts are being made to try and simplify the process, it would still be prudent to enlist the help of an experienced and knowledgeable energy consultant.

Alternative Utility Services provides assistance to our contracted energy clients at no cost for their benchmarking needs. We’ll save you time and energy. We can ensure that you are always in full compliance. We’ll take care of all the benchmarking paperwork, we’ll collect and analyze all the data, and we’ll clearly explain the results. Additionally, our consultants can offer supplementary services to help you better manage your energy, along with options to help you improve your building’s energy efficiency over time.

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