Legislative Memorandum Re: Energy Use Intensity (EUI)

TESTIMONY

of

Carl Hum

Senior Vice President

Management Services and Government Affairs

The Real Estate Board of New York

before the

New York City Council Committee on Environmental Protection

on

Introduction Nos. 1629, 1632 and 1637

INTRODUCTION

REBNY represents over 17,000 owners, developers, managers and brokers of real property in New York City. REBNY’s Sustainability Committee represents owners and developers of over one hundred million square feet of commercial space and tens of thousands of residential units. The Committee members lead best practices in sustainability development and design, and have volunteered their time to help the City shape sustainability policy in efforts such as the Green Codes Task Force, Building Resiliency Task Force, 80x50 Technical Working Group, and NYC Carbon Challenge.

Based upon input from the Sustainability Committee, REBNY is deeply concerned over the use of Energy Use Intensity (EUI) in the bills mentioned below. EUI is a flawed metric because it does not take into account occupant density and space use. Rather, it is a simple ratio that divides a building’s total annual energy consumption by its total gross floor area. Generally, a low EUI signifies good energy performance. Buildings with a low concentration of users – residents and/or workers - will tend to have lower EUI than buildings with a high concentration of users but are actually less efficient.1 But New York City’s building stock is much more diverse and complex than that. Buildings with open “bullpen” style floor plans to accommodate a concentration of traders with multiple computer screens have a relatively high EUI, even when the building itself is rated as Platinum LEED-certified. Tenants’ energy use patterns are a primary driver in a building’s total energy consumption and often outside of the building owner’s control which the bills below specifically target.

Using EUI to guide sustainability policy runs counter to creating jobs and affordable housing which are sorely needed in New York City. Such policy would promote low EUI uses like self-storage buildings as opposed to attracting high EUI uses like tech company headquarters. A new metric needs to be developed that accounts for energy consumed, square footage of the space where said energy is consumed, number of full-time employees or residents using energy, number of hours worked by these employees, in addition to the economic value of the work performed.

REBNY embraces the goals of improving energy efficiency in our built environment and reducing our city’s carbon footprint, and offers the comments below in hopes of furthering said goals.

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INTRO NO: 1629

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the New York City Charter, in relation to requiring periodic recommendations on adoption of a more stringent energy efficiency requirements for buildings and energy use intensity requirements for new and substantially reconstructed buildings.

SPONSORS: Constantinides, Richards, Johnson, Treyger, Levin, Rosenthal, Chin, Salamanca, Jr., Cohen

Intro. No. 1629 requires periodic submissions to the Council to create a more stringent NYC Energy Conservation Code, and that new buildings and major alterations be designed and constructed as low energy intensity structures beginning in 2025. For office and residential buildings, low energy intensity buildings are defined as meeting: 1) 30% below the median source Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of buildings with similar uses or 30% below ASHRAE 90.1-2013; 2) a source EUI of 38 kBTU/year/square foot for new buildings, and a source EUI of 42 kBTU/year/square foot for major alterations; or 3) an alternative low energy intensity target adopted into the NYC Charter.

In addition to the inapplicability of EUI as a singular measure of building performance, there are several reasons why this bill is impractical. The first is that calculating median source EUI baselines would be based on prior benchmarking data that does not take into account recent code changes. For example, the data does not reflect the increased energy use associated with 2014 NYC Mechanical Code requirements for positive outside air ventilation or the increased minimum nighttime temperatures mandated by Local Law 86 of 2017.2 Both are specifically aimed at multifamily residential buildings.

Second, the proposed low energy intensity targets can only be met with existing technology if the number of windows and other openings that could compromise the building seal are significantly decreased. And third, the bill’s proposed implementation schedule does not provide enough time for industry-wide changes to be considered much less incorporated in the energy code submissions. For example, roughly 97% of New York City Energy Conservation Code compliance determinations required by the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) use the U.S. Department of Energy software product groups known as COMcheck and REScheck. COMcheck and REScheck support International Energy Conservation Codes and ASHRAE standards primarily, and would need to be updated to support the bill’s requirements. In the interim, it is unlikely that the number of NYC modeling professionals will grow fast enough to begin modeling energy code compliance on all new construction covered by the bill. Similarly, it is unlikely that the DOB will be able to deploy the new staff and resources necessary to review applications without COMcheck and REScheck to prevent deficient energy code modeling.

Finally, REBNY encourages the Committee on Environmental Protection to consult with the City of New York in how it is meeting similar low energy intensity targets in its capital projects as required by Local Law 31 of 2016. The City’s experience will be instructive in developing appropriate targets.

REBNY opposes Int. No. 1629.

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INTRO NO: 1632

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the New York City Charter, in relation to requiring that property owners disclose information about a building's energy efficiency when selling or leasing such building or space within such building.

SPONSORS: Garodnick, Johnson, Constantinides, Cohen, Rosenthal

Intro. No. 1632 requires property owners to conspicuously post energy efficiency grades and to disclose these grades along with yet-to-be-created energy asset scores at the time of sale or lease. These grades will be determined by yet-to-be-created energy efficiency scores or by a static source EUI threshold. Violators of any provision of this proposal would be subject to a civil penalty equal to $5,000 plus one dollar for each square foot of gross floor area in the covered building or space.

The proposed energy efficiency scores underlying these grades are not adequately defined, and may be tied directly to EUI and water use intensity. The inclusion of “relative to similar buildings” in the score definition also means these scores will be arbitrary based upon how the City uses data to define “similar”. The proposed static source EUI threshold for energy efficiency grades (42 kBTU/year/square foot) is also inappropriate for NYC because some of the most energy efficiency high-rise office buildings in the world have source EUIs of more than 50 kBTU/year/square foot. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shares that “financial offices” have an average source EUI of 148, or 3.5x the proposed standards.

The administering agency will need to be adequately resourced to create the proposed energy asset scoring tool before the July 1, 2018 due date. The large building database schema necessary will be an immensely complicated undertaking that requires specific statistical expertise. It took years for the US Department of Energy to create its Energy Asset Score and for the EPA’s Energy Star score for multifamily buildings to launch which is now only in the early stages of application.

Letter grades based on EUI could discourage the densification needed to support the City’s affordable housing and job creation goals. Some buildings may choose to discourage density and high intensity energy uses to improve their grades or to avoid the proposed six figure fines. An unintended consequence would be endorsing dark, uncomfortable, unproductive spaces, putting the City’s sustainability efforts directly at odds with tenant expectations throughout the City.

REBNY opposes Intro No 1632.

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INTRO NO: 1637

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the New York City Charter, in relation to establishing a New York City energy policy task force and creating a long-term energy plan for the city

SPONSORS: Johnson, Richards, Cohen, Constantinides, Rosenthal

Intro. No. 1637 requires the administrating agency to convene an energy policy task force to create a long-term energy plan by 2019 and every fourth year thereafter. These plans would describe and analyze our current energy supply, citywide energy demand, factors affecting demand, the regulatory authorities affecting supply, the capacity of the green energy sources, as well as the impact of energy efficiency measures. The task force will make recommendations based upon this information to promote sustainability throughout the city and to encourage residents and other members of the public to participate in and benefit from energy efficiency improvements and green energy systems.

REBNY supports this bill to coordinate public and private resources towards shared sustainability goals. However, REBNY recommends that the task force 1) include professional engineers, and 2) determine citywide sustainability targets based upon metrics other than Energy Use Intensity (EUI).

With modification to address the two aforementioned requests, REBNY supports Int. No. 1637.

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CONCLUSION

REBNY is committed to helping reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions and offers the following as additional or alternative pathways:

  • Create a task force of technical experts to replace EUI as a metric and target in all of the City’s sustainability goals;
  • Require one-to-three family homes to deploy “self-programming” thermostats to control the heating and cooling equipment in residential homes;
  • Create height and floor area incentives for sustainability and resiliency improvements, similar to Seattle’s Living Building Pilot; and
  • Create a design competition to incentivize and advertise new equipment and energy efficiency techniques.
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[1] The imminent de-commissioning of the Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC) might also lead to higher EUI scores. Part of a building’s total energy consumption considers the source of energy and the “losses” associated with generating and delivering the energy to the site. This site-to-source conversion factor will be affected because alternative energy sources to IPEC have not been identified yet.
 
[2] As part of the 2014 NYC Construction Codes adoption, the NYC Mechanical Code was updated with the first requirement of its kind that multifamily buildings provide positive outside air ventilation to dwelling units to the extent that the exhaust exceeds 75 CFM per dwelling unit. Few, if any, buildings completed under this code had submitted benchmarking data prior to the 80x50 Technical Working Group study. Mechanical ventilation will increase energy consumption in multifamily buildings and the next NYC Mechanical Code may as much as double these ventilation requirements. Similarly, Local Law 86 of 2017 will increase energy consumption by multifamily residential buildings with its requirement to maintain nighttime temperatures at 62 degrees, a seven-degree increase from prior law.