Flawed Metric That Rewards Inefficiency Shouldn’t Guide Green Policy

REBNY is committed to energy-efficient policies that make our city greener, stronger and more sustainable.

We recently continued that commitment by testifying on three sustainability bills under consideration by the City Council.

While we oppose two of the bills, we believe some aspects of these proposals can be improved to make a positive impact on citywide efforts to increase energy efficiency.

Our primary concern with all three bills is that they are based on a flawed metric known as Energy Use Intensity (EUI), which is ostensibly used to gauge energy performance.

EUI is an inappropriate measure because it does not take into account occupant density and space within a building, but instead merely divides a building’s total annual energy consumption by its total gross floor area.

It is a blunt instrument that rewards inefficiency; this flawed metric should never be used as a basis for smart public policy.

The de Blasio administration agrees with REBNY on this issue and has joined us and other groups including the American Council of Engineering Companies and the New York League of Conservation Voters in opposing the use of EUI, stating that the metric is “not an indicator of the efficiency of a building.”

One of the bills requires new buildings and major alterations to be designed as “low energy intensity structures” beginning in 2025 – but the legislation as written would not actually achieve energy efficiency goals.

Aside from its flawed EUI metric, we oppose this bill because its calculations would be based on prior benchmarking data that does not account for recent changes to New York’s energy and construction codes. Nor does it take into account efficiency upgrades existing buildings have already incorporated. Additionally, the bill’s proposed implementation schedule does not provide enough time for industry-wide changes to be considered and incorporated into building design.

We have encouraged the City Council to consult with the de Blasio administration to learn more about how the City is already meeting low energy intensity targets as required by Local Law 31 of 2016. That feedback should help the Council to develop a more practical solution with more appropriate targets.

Another legislative proposal requires property owners to disclose more information about a building’s energy efficiency when selling or leasing the property and creates new civil penalties for any failure to comply.

Once again, this legislation includes many problematic and counterproductive provisions, in addition to its use of EUI.

The bill’s proposed energy efficiency grades are not adequately defined and would result in meaningless energy score grades. A July 1, 2018 implementation deadline makes this task exceedingly unlikely from an administrative standpoint given that it took years for the U.S. Department of Energy to create similar scoring systems that are still in the early stages of application.

REBNY strongly opposes this bill because it would not improve citywide sustainability and its poorly conceived grading system would likely discourage use of the most efficient, new offices in favor of old, poorly lit and ventilated spaces that use less energy.

The third piece of legislation would create a new energy policy task force to create a long-term, citywide energy plan by 2019 and every fourth year thereafter.

REBNY supports this bill in spirit, but we have strongly urged the Council to modify it to require that the task force includes professional engineers. Additionally, as with the other bills in question, the Council should amend the bill to eliminate EUI.

The Council’s first step in improving these bills should be to convene a group of technical experts that can determine an appropriate replacement for EUI in any new proposal.

Aside from our comments on the legislation being considered, we also recommend that the Council require one-to-three family homes to deploy self-programming thermostats to control heating and cooling equipment in residential buildings.

Additionally, we believe the City should create height and floor area incentives for sustainability and resiliency improvements.

We look forward to continuing these important conversations with the Council and the de Blasio administration and supporting a smarter approach to making our city greener and more sustainable.