Greater Boston Real Estate Board Urges Building Owners to Oppose Energy Labeling Ordinance

High Rise Facilities | April 30, 2013
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Recently Boston Globe columnist, Lawrence Harmon, took to the paper’s opinion page to address the City of Boston’s energy labeling proposal. In his column, ‘Labeling Plan Isn’t Worth The Energy’, Harmon wrote:

Mayor Menino wants building owners in Boston to collect data on their energy use and lay it at his feet. The mayor, who has pledged to make Boston the greenest city in America, is playing catch-up with San Francisco, New York, and other cities that require building owners to report water use, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions. But Menino is also playing around with property values and the privacy of tenants.

The proposed ordinance would cover existing commercial buildings larger than 25,000 square feet and residential buildings with 25 or more units. Owners would be required to use a federal EPA software tool — Energy Star Portfolio Manager — to track their buildings’ overall energy use and that of their tenants. The information would then be converted into an energy performance rating — measured against a national benchmark — on a scale of 1 to 100. City Hall would post the ratings online. And owners and tenants who fail to report would face fines.

It gets more intrusive. The plan requires nearly all but the top quarter of performers on the Energy Star efficiency scorecard to conduct audits every five years as a way to identify potential upgrades. The audits alone could cost upwards of $25,000 for a 50,000-square-foot commercial property, according to a California Energy Commission publication.

The Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB) has also spoken out against the mayor’s proposal in the hopes of persuading building owners and others to contact their city councilor before the May 8th vote. In a statement the GBREB said:

The City of Boston is about to pass a law ordinance that will result in rents rising across the City of Boston, hitting those least able to afford them the hardest. The City’s initiative, which has taken the form of a proposed ordinance, is intended to spur investment in energy efficiency upgrades by shaming owners of energy inefficient buildings into making improvements in their properties. They want to give buildings a SCARLET LETTER. Their goal makes good sense, however the City’s plan does not. This plan will ultimately affect tenants, both commercial and residential who already pay for energy saving measures on their utility bills.

If passed, the City’s ordinance will require property owners to collect utility information from every household or commercial tenant, complete complex energy audits, and then report and disclose the results — which will then be evaluated or “scored” by government regulators. Owners who refuse to comply will face enforcement or fines. Costs forced upon building owners by the City will ultimately be paid by their tenants in the form of increased rent.

As energy users we currently pay fees tucked away in our utility bills to fund conservation measures. Why should we have the City forcing ratepayers to pay for those same services again? The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald have editorialized against this ordinance. Further, Dr. Robert Stavins of Harvard University analyzed this Boston City Ordinance, and determined that it is not clear if this proposed ordinance will even work.

The Greater Boston Real Estate Board supports policies or programs aimed at conserving energy or protecting our environment; but those policies must not, stigmatize property. It should not result in duplicative costs passed on to tenants. We need environmental education and programs that work. We are concerned not only with the impact on the business community, but on housing affordability.

Boston should be proud of the work the City has done to voluntarily encourage energy conservation measures, but tenants should not be saddled with a new unfunded mandate with questionable environmental benefit. To put that burden on Bostonians, when to date, no city has shown energy scoring to be effective, is ill advised.

To prevent a rent increase that may occur as a result of this proposed ordinance, please contact your city councilor before the vote on May 8th. You can find your city councilor here.

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