Businesses and state agencies face stringent new requirements to report their energy use, but Avista Utilities says it has set up a data-integration link on its Web page to help customers prepare to meet the requirements with a minimal amount of effort.
At least one customer, Spokane Teachers Credit Union, already has learned by making the reports that an LEED-certified branch it opened in 2008 was burning through more energy than the national average for bank branches and has worked to improve the building's performance.
The Avista link helps customers submit information so they can get set up to obtain monthly energy-use benchmark figures for their buildings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star portfolio manager system. Avista uploads the figures to the Energy Star system, which, in addition to supplying the usage data to customers, analyzes the figures and other information submitted by the customer to give each building in the system a national energy performance rating.
The EPA says its system bases the national energy performance rating on a comparison of energy consumption at similar buildings in the same industry nationwide. The numerical rating, on a scale of 1 to 100, helps energy managers assess how efficiently energy is used in their buildings, Energy Star says.
"This is all about commercial customers getting their miles per gallon" in terms of the energy they use in their facilities, says Bruce Folsom, Avista's director of energy efficiency. There's no charge for the reporting service.
A state law enacted last April requires that after Jan. 1, 2011, owners and managers of nonresidential buildings with more than 50,000 square feet of floor space must provide to any prospective buyer, lessee, or lender energy-usage numbers for the most recent 12 months in which a building was occupied continuously. They also must give a prospective buyer, lessee, or lender the Energy Star national energy performance rating of the building.
By Jan. 1, 2012, building owners and managers will have to provide such information for nonresidential structures of more than 10,000 square feet.
The same law requires that by this coming July 1, state agencies must provide the information to the Washington state Department of General Administration for every building they have that has more than 5,000 square feet of floor space. Energy Star portfolio manager accounts established by agencies for state buildings will be linked to a state portfolio master account the department will set up. The department will prepare a biennial report summarizing the master account data, with the first such report due Dec. 1, 2012.
In the law, the Legislature says that "energy efficiency is the cheapest, quickest, and cleanest way to meet rising energy needs, confront climate change, and boost our economy."
Avista says its Web-site integration link with the Energy Star system is fully functional now for commercial customers and state agencies to get set up to use the Energy Star reporting system.
"It will save me a lot of work," says Jack Cady, facilities manager of Spokane Teachers Credit Union's 14 locations. After a customer has set up the system for reports on a building, Avista uploads benchmark figures for the previous 12 months, and when users click onto the system, the figures will stream into their computers, eliminating the need for them to enter the data. Each month thereafter, Avista will upload updated benchmark figures.
In the past, Cady says, he has had to enter data each month on electricity and natural gas use at all 14 of STCU's facilities. "This Energy Star system has really taken that duty over for me," he says.
STCU was surprised when the Energy Star system gave its branch at 2201 N. Madson, in Liberty Lake, a national energy performance rating of less than 50, which is the national average. The branch had met the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for environmentally sustainable construction when it was built in 2008.
"We expected it to be one of our better performers," Cady says. "We looked at information from the branch and compared it with the information from the Energy Star program. It wasn't doing as well as expected. We might not have found that out so quickly had it not been for this program."
The credit union checked into why the branch was performing poorly.
"Some insulation was skipped," Cady says. "We were 'overventilating.' We tightened up our schedule as far as start and stop times" for the heating and cooling systems. STCU fine-tuned settings for a Watt Stopper digital lighting control program it uses there.
"It's been two or three months since we started making the corrections," Cady says. "We have seen some improvement. It has come up some points, but we're not done with it."
Meanwhile, another STCU branch, at 207 E. Hastings Road, had old, outdated equipment, Cady says. "We completely replaced the heating and air-conditioning systems in that building. We're seeing the benefit of that through lower operating costs."
Avista says building owners and managers can sign up for the Energy Star reporting system by going to its avistauilities.com Web site and clicking on "Business Home" at the top of its home page, then going to the lower left area of the Business Home page and clicking on "Automated Benchmarking Service."
The customer then will create an Energy Star portfolio manager log-in account and provide information about themselves and their building, including the serial number of the utility meter or meters at the site, the building's address, when it was built, how it's used, the square footage, the number of people who work there, and the number of computers they use.
Finally, the customer will note that Avista is its energy provider and submit information to the Spokane utility that Avista must have to communicate with the customer. Avista will validate the information and confirm to the Energy Star system that the information is accurate.
After that, say Folsom, project manager Jerry Emoto, and demand side management project manager Leona Doege, customers will be able to obtain the energy performance ratings for their buildings and benchmark energy-usage numbers from the Energy Star system.
Emoto says that if he were a customer who obtained a benchmark energy-use report from Energy Star for a building, "I'd take a snapshot of that every month" and keep the information for long-range planning purposes. Having comprehensive energy-use information can make it much easier to determine whether to invest in an energy upgrade, he says.
Using the Energy Star system, however, will involve some complications. For example, the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services' Lakeland Village and Eastern State Hospital complexes, in Medical Lake, have a total of about 100 buildingsand one electricity meter and one natural gas meter for each complex, making reporting of energy usage for single buildings problematical.
"We are one of the larger agencies in the state," says John Pelkey, financial manager of the land and buildings division of DSHS. "DSHS has more than 700 buildings, and we think we'll be putting 500 of them into the Energy Star system." Some of the agency's buildings are abandoned, and no people work in some others, he says. As the state becomes able to isolate energy usage better for individual buildings at complexes such as Lakeland Village and Eastern State Hospital, it will be able to report figures for more buildings, he says.
In all, DSHS will have to deal with 32 utilities as it reports usage at its buildings across the state, Pelkey says.
Folsom says Avista customers who see that energy use at their buildings is high compared with use by their peers can have Avista do a walk-through audit at their premises and provide a report on energy-saving opportunities, costs, and projected savings. He believes the required reporting will stimulate added energy conservation efforts by the company's customers, and says that even though cities, counties, and schools aren't required to report their usage, "We would strongly encourage them to do so because it will benefit them greatly."
As of this past Jan. 1, if a building the state leases has a rating of below 75, a public agency is prohibited from entering into a lease renewal unless a utility has conducted a so-called "preliminary" energy audit within the previous two years. Also, the owner or lessor of the building must agree to have a vendor perform an "investment grade audit," basically a bid to perform improvements. If a preliminary audit has identified cost-effective energy conservation measures, the owner or lessor must implement them within the first two years of a lease agreement.
If a state-owned building has a performance rating below 50, a public agency must undertake a preliminary energy audit by July 1, 2011, and if potential cost-effective energy savings are found, an investment grade energy audit must be completed by July 1, 2013. If a building has a score below 50, the director of the Department of General Administration must review the cost and delivery of an agency's programs to determine the viability of relocation.
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