Case Study: Washington, D.C.’s Benchmarking Law

Background

The District of Columbia is consistently a leading jurisdiction in green building policies. The present mayor’s vision for the District is to become the healthiest, greenest and most livable city in the United States in the next 20 years. Specific citywide goals include cutting energy use by 50%, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and increasing use of renewable power to 50% by 2032. Because buildings are responsible for approximately 75% of the District’s greenhouse gas emissions, helping building owners and property managers understand their facility’s energy use is a critical foundation for meeting these goals and nudging the existing building sector toward zero net energy. 

The District’s Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008 (CAEA) was among first laws in the nation to require annual benchmarking and disclosure of building energy performance using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager® tool. Portfolio Manager requires an input of energy consumption data and building characteristics to generate a score of 1-100, making it easy to compare the energy performance of one building to similar buildings nationwide. Buildings scoring 75 or higher are eligible for ENERGY STAR® certification. The law applies to D.C. government buildings of at least 10,000 square feet and private commercial buildings of at least 50,000 square feet. 

Help Center 

Technical support for stakeholders navigating CAEA requirements is provided by the DC Department of Energy and Environment with support from the DC Sustainable Energy Utility. Their Benchmarking Help Center is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Experts provide assistance to building owners and property managers as well as the general public who have questions about using Portfolio Manager, interpreting the resulting report or complying with District regulations. The help center has fielded over 3,000 email and phone requests and conducted more than 15 onsite, in-person trainings.

Disclosure

The District makes the energy performance of its portfolio of government buildings transparent to taxpayers through the online BuildSmart DC platform. It displays individual building energy consumption at 15-minute intervals, annual utility costs and a number of detailed reports. The District also discloses annual energy consumption and other high-level stats of private buildings in spreadsheet format.

Impact

Making energy performance data visible to building owners and property managers has led to an improvement in building energy efficiency. Among D.C. buildings with annual benchmarking reports from 2010 through 2014, source energy use intensity decreased an average of 10%. Over the same period, ENERGY STAR scores for these buildings increased by five points. As of September 2015, the D.C. metro area leads the nation with 480 ENERGY STAR-certified buildings.