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Why Building Owners Should Care About California AB 802

Published: Sep 18, 2015 Policy | Blog Post

As of this week, commercial and multifamily building owners in California have serious reason to celebrate. Late last Friday, the California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 802 (AB 802), which takes an important step forward in unlocking access to building performance data and the vast opportunities associated with better knowledge about how our buildings operate. This bill rewrites, and breathes fresh air into, California’s benchmarking program. You can read more about the technicalities via blogs from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Sustainable Energy, but the big picture is that this is great news for California, specifically with regard to whole-building data access—and here’s why:

As IMT works with market participants to catalyze building performance practices, we generally start with the basic premise that you can’t manage what you don’t measure.  At the most basic level, any building owner interested in embarking on energy efficiency improvements needs to have a baseline of current performance against which to judge future performance.  This baseline can be calculated using the industry standard, ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager building benchmark software, which generates a 1–100 score for each building based on a minimum of 12 months of historical whole-building utility data. Whole-building data is the total energy consumption data for an entire building including the energy usage data measured by tenant meters—and it’s a key element to benchmarking a building’s total performance. However, for commercial buildings and multifamily buildings that are “separately metered” (i.e. buildings for which the utility meters and bills individual tenants directly), monthly whole-building information can be hard to come by for a building owner.

So what are building owners with separately metered spaces to do? Absent proactive policies or guidelines, some utilities may require a building owner to get individual tenant authorization for every tenant in the building—an arduous and time-consuming task to obtain something as basic as an aggregated whole-building kilowatt hour (khW) value (containing no personally identifiable information that could compromise consumer privacy).

However, utilities can enable better access by proactively providing whole-building information to building owners, which is why AB 802 is so exciting for the field of utility data access. Access to whole-building data is a critical component of the energy management process, and many groups including BOMA International, the Real Estate Roundtable, the National Association of State Energy Officials, the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development  have called for better access. Then there’s the Data and Transparency Alliance (DATA), a collaborative effort led by the commercial real estate industry and energy efficiency organizations (including IMT) to provide building operators with energy consumption data to advance energy efficiency and energy cost savings in buildings.

IMT has written extensively about best practices for providing whole-building data, including the use of a “low aggregation threshold,” meaning the number of aggregated accounts at which a utility will provide a building owner with whole-building data without the need for approval from individual billpayers. For example, ComEd, in Illinois, has provided thousands of building owners with whole-building data via its online portal, using an aggregation threshold of four for commercial or multifamily property owners. Another best practice is for a utility to offer automatic upload to Portfolio Manager via Web Services (something ComEd also offers).  And the 22 city-utility pairs participating in DOE’s Energy Data Accelerator are all working on improving and implementing whole-building data access best practices for commercial and multifamily properties.

While whole-building data practices vary from state to state and across utility territories, with AB 802 California takes a smart step in legislating specific aggregation thresholds that apply to all utilities serving commercial and multifamily properties across the entire state. Under AB 802, owners of commercial buildings with three or more active utility accounts and owners of multifamily properties with five or more accounts will be able to able to access whole-building utility information directly from the utility. 

In other words, California building owners now have a better and more effective way to access whole-building information. (Buildings under the thresholds will need to acquire and submit tenant authorization forms before the utility will give them the data.) California utilities (including electric, gas, steam, and fuel oil) are required to maintain 12 consecutive months of energy usage data and must provide-whole building data within four weeks of a request by any building owner.

Standardized and streamlined access to energy data is valuable for building owners and utilities alike, and this value will only increase over time. In addition to California, other jurisdictions have already taken this important step. The District of Columbia set a specific aggregation threshold of five commercial or multifamily accounts. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission recently finalized a rule that requires utilities, under Commission jurisdiction, to provide whole-building data to owners of buildings with four or more utility accounts. There are other utilities that have led by proactively developing their own thresholds. ConEd, in New York, and Seattle City Light, in Washington, both provide whole-building data directly to building owners with 2 or more utility accounts (Having trouble keeping track of this? Don’t worry: IMT will soon be publishing an updated list of utilities across the country providing whole-building data.)

In passing AB 802, California has not only moved from being a laggard on whole-building data access to become a leader, but it also has cleared a huge barrier for its building owners and established best practices for others to follow. Let the market transformation begin.

*This blog post was authored by IMT Senior Associate Alissa Burger