The Gazette’s recent editorial, “Pull the plug on energy database” (March 29), arguing against the city’s proposed Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure ordinance as big-government meddling, misses the point. The ordinance would require owners of several hundred of Boston’s largest buildings (those over 25,000 square feet or more than 25 residential units) to report total energy usage each year via the widely-used Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool, which gives buildings an overall energy efficiency “score.” Owners of buildings that scored poorly would be required to get an energy audit, identifying ways to cut waste. The information would be publicly disclosed, giving owners of poorly-scoring buildings an increased incentive to invest in energy-efficiency upgrades, and giving those looking to buy or rent space in such properties useful information about the likely utility bills they would pay.
Is the ordinance “a solution in search of a problem,” as the Gazette claims? Hardly. The problem is Boston’s aging and inefficient building stock, the lack of information about how much energy our buildings waste (particularly when utility bills are split up among an owner and many tenants), and thus the lack of incentive to do anything about it. The result is lots of money wasted on too-high energy bills and a missed opportunity for Boston to take the lead in creating new “green” jobs around retrofitting buildings for higher levels of energy efficiency. In addition, as the impacts of climate change become increasingly clear, we all have a stake in transitioning ourselves and our city away from the inefficient use of fossil fuels and towards a more sustainable use of energy.
Measuring energy use has proven to be a simple and effective way to encourage its reduction. A recent EPA study of 35,000 buildings around the country using the Portfolio Manager benchmarking tool found that energy use at these buildings decreased by 7 percent between 2008 and 2011.
Similar energy reporting ordinances have been passed in recent years in two states and eight cities, including New York, San Francisco and Seattle, where they have resulted in growth in green-sector jobs and progress towards meeting aggressive energy-efficiency and climate action targets. Boston can and should learn from these other cities’ experiences in fine-tuning the ordinance and its implementation so that tenants’ privacy is respected and compliance costs are reasonable. But concerns about implementation fine points should not obscure the underlying merits of the ordinance. Boston, too, has ambitious climate action goals, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, and doing so in a way that creates jobs, saves us all money, and increases the city’s resilience and sustainability. This ordinance is an essential tool in helping the city meet this goal, and it deserves support.
Editor’s Note: The writer served on the Boston Climate Action Leadership Committee, a City of Boston advisory group that recommended an energy-scoring program.