Sammy Chu: Hello, this is Sammy Chu. Welcome everybody. Our guest is Sarah Oral, director of civil engineering with Cameron engineering. This is Part 2 of our discussion about benchmarking for energy efficiency on Long Island.
Sarah Oral: Getting a handle of where your money is going is a great feeling – especially at the municipal level. We have these tax caps. I personally am a trustee in the village where I live. I know from the municipal side of things we’re trying to find money wherever we can because we don’t want to raise taxes beyond the tax cap. And every year, there’s definite costs that go up that you have no control over. There’s health care, there’s disability insurance, you know, you can’t touch those. So, as a municipal leader, you try to figure out how you could save money. And if one of those ways is identifying efficiency within the location where you’re working every day. Why not?
Sammy Chu: Yeah, I it seems obvious right?
Sarah Oral: Yes.
Sammy Chu: But it’s an obvious battle we’ve been having a hard time fighting for a long time.
Sarah Oral: Yes.
Sammy Chu: So, is there a requirement, as part of the clean energy communities, that the results of the benchmarking are will be made public?
Sarah Oral: Yes. Actually there’s a couple of requirements for getting credit in the clean energy communities program. So, the first requirement is that the municipality passes a resolution committing to benchmarking all of their municipal facilities that are larger than a thousand square feet. So, for most municipalities here on Long Island, that’s just their Village Hall, but once you get to larger villages and the towns that includes DPW buildings Parks buildings, I mean…
Sammy Chu: Senior Centers, you know.
Sarah Oral: Exactly – any municipally-owned-and-operated building. It doesn’t have to be owned – they could be the sole tenant and operating the building. So, the next requirement is that all data be made public on an annual basis on the municipalities website and in any additional way that the municipality wants to make it available. So, if they have a quarterly newsletter that they send their residents, they could add the benchmarking information to that newsletter. But the requirement is that all information that was previously made public must remain public. So, you get a list. You could actually see how you’re doing year to year.
Sammy Chu: Great!
Sarah Oral: And the information includes not only your straight up energy use in kilowatt hours and BTUs, but also, the weatherized energy use intensity, which is how much energy you’re using per square foot. Also, the greenhouse gases that are associated with the energy that you’re using and an energy score if available. Not all building types have energy star scores. So, when we’re talking about requirements, one of the interesting things – the Clean Energy Communities program, there’s a lot of two-tier requirements. So, sometimes municipalities over 40,000 residents have a different requirement than those in smaller municipalities. And originally, in order for a large municipality to get credit for this item, they must have also, required all commercial and multi-family buildings in their jurisdiction over 25,000 square feet to benchmark.
Sammy Chu: Especially the New York City requirement.
Sarah Oral: Yes, though, New York City doesn’t require their own municipal buildings in their legislation and none of the large communities were takers – of that. And NYCERTA realized, “Oh, that’s a heavy lift.” We really think it’s important for the municipalities to be benchmarking because then you could lead by example. Not “Do as I say, not as I do.” You’re doing it. You’re telling your constituents why it’s important and they can see. “Oh, well, if my town, village, city, county can do it, then I can do it as well.
Sammy Chu: I do some work municipalities, but the bulk of my work is with working with private businesses and they’re building stock with its commercial, industrial businesses. And yes, some are really sophisticated. There are some businesses that have people that, whether it’s a full-time, energy manager or a really sharp facilities manager, they’re on top of what they’re doing. But that’s not the majority. utility bills, most of them, they’re for a lot of companies, they never make it past the bookkeeper, right? The bills come in. They get paid. They go out if, unless something looks completely out of whack, you know or ridiculous, it’s never rising to the attention, past attention a bookkeeper. If you have a sharp, executive or maybe see a CFO that might track that stuff once in a while just to look the cost then some red flags might be made, but I think it’s safe to say that most private businesses are not really approaching the level of sophistication when it comes to the energy consumptions that would allow them to be using energy most efficiently. And So, it seems municipalities are now in a position actually, you know, move ahead in sophistication from a lot of those businesses and you mention leading by example, but I think long-term, it would be great if we could get to an environment where municipalities can start to consider, some requirements especially now that they have the understanding that this is not hard to do. This isn’t rocket science. If you know this doesn’t cost money. This is really about arming yourself with information.
Sarah Oral: Well, not only that, there’s So, many businesses now that bill themselves as “the sustainable alternative” to their competitors – or even when you’re in the residential sector, “Our building is you know…,” you have LEED if you want to be able to say, “Oh we’re LEED Gold,” you know that they did take some steps to become more efficient than let’s say the typical buildings.
Sammy Chu: Energy points all set.
Sarah Oral: Exactly, but there’s a lot of buildings that don’t get LEED-Certified that they’ve still implemented some of the items that could maybe lead to LEED Certification. And, it’s one thing to say, “I’m Green,” but it’s another to show the public, “Look. I actually am Green – here’s how I function right now.” It could be a marketing tool for future customers and or tenants.
Sammy Chu: We can only hope and that’s what brought us to our initiative that we’ve been working towards and it’s taking time and we’re being patient with it. There’s a lot of other legislation going on, legislative initiatives and conversations going on that maybe are putting us sometimes to the side but we’re going to continue to come back and be persistent and that’s the initiative we’ve been working on to educate the IDA’s. So, I’ll give a quick primer for those that don’t know what an IDA is, The IDAs are the Industrial Development Authorities, you know quasi- governmental entities. Around this state of New York, we have several here on Long Island. Some are town-based, So, there’s county IDAs that, essentially are authorized to grant tax credits to businesses that are poised to create jobs, . We can overcome cost barriers for them actually getting projects done or doing business in New York. It’s a way to attract businesses from outside of New York to come here and you and I’ve been working on this, initiative to really educate the IDAs that this could really be a nice stepping stone to broader requirements and then a broader benchmarking adoption is putting some, requirements, benchmarking requirements on companies and businesses that are granted IDA benefits. So, my question to you is, how getting that done,- when we get that done – how much do you think that that will serve to drive energy conservation, and what other impacts do you think that would have?
Sarah Oral: Well, first of all, I think it would be a snowball effect because a lot of the developers that come before the IDA have more than one property. So, let’s say there was a requirement to benchmark the property that they’re getting tax breaks on. What’s to stop them from doing other properties in their portfolio if they see the benefits to this? And then again, it comes to the bragging – making it publicly available. Again, we haven’t hashed through what the requirements to the IDA would be, but let’s say information was made available to the public and the public could go somewhere and look at how different properties are performing. This all goes towards, “Oh, well, you’re building a new office building? I want to be a tenant in that building because I know that I will not be wasting my money on electricity and I’ll have a comfortable environment and we’re doing something good for the greater community.” And I think it’s really nobody wants to be first. I really think it’s an issue of just getting people to do it, and speak out about it, and say, “You know what? This really isn’t a heavy lift.” It doesn’t cost any money. There is a free option. There are third-party programs that you can benchmark through. I don’t I don’t want to say everyone has to use Portfolio Manager. But Portfolio Manager is a fantastic resource that’s absolutely free. You can even benchmark your own home. You could do residential buildings, single-family buildings.
Sammy Chu: I’ll make my kids do that this weekend.
Sarah Oral: Yeah. Why not? Let’s see if you know what put your money where your mouth is, let’s see how your house performs. But I really think once people start doing it, it’ll just become something common that people do. You have to know about something in order to do it. And I think the more people that talk about benchmarking, the more people will adopt having internal benchmarking policies whether someone from the outside is making them do it or not.
Sammy Chu: I couldn’t agree more, and the last question I’ll ask is, “How important do you think is making the results public?”
Sarah Oral: I think that’s the most important, because no matter what you do, and this is So, pessimistic of me to say, and I am always a glass half-full person – there’s always people are going to try to game the system. And I think you’re held accountable when you make your information public, you know. You could say all you want, “I’m Green, I’m doing this,” but unless you could really show people what you’re doing, I don’t know that there’s any backing behind that.
Sammy Chu: To be clear, making benchmarking results public, you’re not putting your PSEG bills are up, you’re not putting your consumption figures for.
Sarah Oral: You’re putting up your Energy Star score – and making that available – to the public.
Sammy Chu: And it just gives you a frame of reference for comparison to other buildings and like that.
Sarah Oral: We’re not asking anybody to put trade secrets or anything like that on. The public has no business knowing about your business, right? But if you do let them know how you’re performing energy-wise, it there.
Sammy Chu: Hopefully it becomes more of a source of pride for businesses than a source of shame.
Sarah Oral: Exactly.
Sammy Chu: Because it’s only a win for them because they if they’re the better scores are the less money they’re spending on energy.
Sarah Oral: And I mean you hear people talking about the Millennials all the time and I may be on the cusp of that in one direction or another, not saying, but really the younger generation cares about the environment. There’s no question that there’s a changing climate and that we need to have more resiliency, especially here on Long Island. And people want to support businesses that feel the same way. And this is a way of showing the public that you feel the same way.
Sammy Chu: Well, I am glad you said something good about Millennials because this is a this is a podcast, and if any single person listens to this, it’ll most likely be a millennial.
Sarah Oral: Okay? No labels.
Sammy Chu: With that being said, I want to thank you for joining me today.
Sarah Oral: Thanks for having me!
Sammy Chu: Maybe we’ll do this again. We go on about this, and Sarah and I have for much, much longer, but I am guessing that if you are if you’re taking the time to listen this long and to the end, you know how to find Sarah and I and we would love if you are interested party whether you’re a municipality, whether you’re a business owner, whether you’re a student, whether you’re someone who’s looking to just get active, and what we’re trying to do and essentially advocating for adoption of energy conservation measures and really combating climate change here at the local level here on Long Island, please find us. We want to hear from you, and you don’t have to be a spectator. This is there’s a lot of room to be an active participant in helping to get this done. So, Sarah, thank you again, and I hope you have a nice summer.
Sarah Oral: Thanks, you too, and thank you again for having me. This was great.
Sammy Chu: And well, I will see you soon. Thanks.