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Chicago Energy Benchmarking

This article provides a brief overview of Chicago’s energy benchmarking program and links to resources where further details can be obtained. Instructions are also provided for board members of condo associations that are required to participate in the program.

The practical requirement for most boards is to hire an energy-certified company to complete the benchmarking work on behalf of the association. While it is possible for a board to perform some of the required energy benchmarking steps directly, most will find it far easier to hire a firm to handle the entire process on their behalf.

Ordinance Overview

Information about the energy benchmarking program is provided below, which has been copied from the City of Chicago’s website.  (You can review the web site directly here.)

In September 2013, Mayor Emanuel and Chicago’s City Council adopted a building energy benchmarking ordinance to raise awareness of energy performance through information and transparency, with the goal of unlocking energy and cost savings opportunities for businesses and residents.

Chicago's Building Energy Use Benchmarking Ordinance calls on existing commercial, institutional, and residential buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to track whole-building energy use, report to the City annually, and verify data accuracy every three years.  The law covers less than 1% of Chicago’s buildings, which account for ~20% of total energy used by all buildings.

Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance Requirements:

The Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance focuses on creating information that will enable better decision-making.  It does not require buildings to make any mandatory investments.  The ordinance has three parts:

  1. Benchmark energy use (annually): Covered buildings will track basic building information and whole-building energy use (electricity, natural gas, and any other fuels, including common spaces and tenant-occupied spaces) using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, a free online tool offered by the US EPA.
  2. Verify energy data (every 3 years): In the first year in which buildings benchmark, and every third year thereafter, buildings will have energy and building data reviewed by an in-house or 3rd-party professional with a license or training credential recognized by the City.
  3. Report to the City (annually)

Source: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/progs/env/building-energy-benchmarking---transparency.html

How can an Association determine if they must participate?

There is a lookup system on the city’s website where a board can determine if their building is required to perform energy benchmarking. (Buildings may be added or removed over time, at the discretion of the city.)

Lookup Tool: https://data.cityofchicago.org/Environment-Sustainable-Development/Chicago-Energy-Benchmarking-Covered-Buildings/g5i5-yz37

Buildings that are required to participate will also receive ongoing notices from the city, which is how most condominium board members will be made aware of this requirement. If a notice is received, it should not be ignored. The city will impose fines on buildings that do not comply with the ordinance and perform the required benchmarking procedures.

How to complete the energy benchmarking

While it may be possible for a board to perform some of the benchmarking work directly (see the next section) most boards will want to hire a 3rd party firm to handle the process on their behalf. The city has provided a list of companies who provide energy benchmarking services in the Chicagoland area.

Vendor List: http://www.usgbc-illinois.org/resources/energy-services-database/

Can a condominium Board perform the benchmarking directly?

If board members are interested and have the time, they can technically perform most of the benchmarking legwork themselves. By carefully reviewing the city’s website and following the provided training materials, a board can complete steps #1 and #3 listed above. (See “Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance Requirements”)

Step #2, however, can only be completed by a professional “with a license or training credential recognized by the City.” This step involves the verification of the gathered energy data before it is officially submitted to the city. Ultimately this "verification" is little more than having the professional review the gathered usage results and apply his or her signature. The catch is that not just anyone can perform the verification.

The verification step must be completed by someone with the following licenses or credentials:

  • Building Operator Certification (BOC) - Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance
  • Building Energy Technology Certificate (BET) - City Colleges of Chicago
  • Building Energy Assessment Professional Certification (BEAP) - ASHRAE
  • Certified Energy Manager Certification (CEM) - Association of Energy Engineers
  • Professional Engineer (PE) - State of Illinois: Licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation
  • Licensed Architect - State of Illinois: Licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation
  • Facilities Engineering Technology Energy Conservation Course (FET 220) - Offered jointly by IUOE Local 399 and Triton College

This verification requirement is the snag that makes it impossible for most associations to perform the benchmarking without outside help. You may be thinking, "Why can't we perform the benchmarking work ourselves and simply hire a professional to perform the verification?" The problem is finding a professional (someone with one of the required qualifications) that is willing to solely perform the verification of your benchmarking findings. In our experience we have found it difficult to find anyone that is willing to do this.

Most boards are not willing to pay someone a large sum of money simply to look at their compiled benchmarking findings and apply their signature. After all, the real time intensive work was performed in Step #1.

On the flip side, most of these professionals won't find it worth their time to perform the verification for a small sum. Even if the core task requires little more than signing a document, the process still requires some type of contract, interfacing with a client, billing and all of the typical overhead related to providing any type of service. Due to this, most of these companies are only willing to perform the entire benchmarking process, for a higher fee.

In short, it may take some searching to find a resource willing to perform only the verification step. Keep this in mind before plunging ahead with self-completing Step #1.

Costs for Energy Benchmarking

The costs associated with completing the benchmarking are mainly dependent on the size of the property and the resource hired to perform the work. In our experience speaking with companies that perform benchmarking (see the city's recommended list of vendors above) you should expect a minimum fee of $1,000. ($1,500 - $2,000 is a more reasonable estimate.) Please note this fee is to perform all of the required steps.

As reviewed in the previous section, it may be possible to minimize your costs by performing the benchmarking work yourself and hiring a professional to complete the required verification step.

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