Chicago Energy Benchmarking: New Disclosure Requirements

Christopher E. Chwedyk, CSI, AIA

Posted by Christopher E. Chwedyk, CSI, AIA

The Chicago City Council passed amendments (Amendments) to Chicago’s energy benchmarking requirements, the Building Energy Use Benchmarking Ordinance of the City of Chicago (Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance) on November 21, 2017.These changes were introduced in Chicago City Council on October 11, 2017. The Amendments add a new rating system, disclosure requirements, and water use reporting to the ordinance that was originally passed in September 2013 and applies to commercial, municipal, and residential buildings that are 50,000 square feet or more.

Chicago-Theater_Streetscape_by_christian-deknock.jpgPhoto by Christian DeKnock

New Rating System

The Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance program, administered by the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), requires building owners to document their building’s energy use with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s free online tool, ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager® ( Portfolio Manager). Once a building’s data is submitted, Portfolio Manager assigns a score on a scale of 1-100 based on how the building’s energy use compares with similar buildings across the United States.

The Amendments introduce a new energy performance rating system that uses four stars based on the Portfolio Manager score. BACP will annually assign a rating to each building after the required benchmarking information has been submitted. The star rating translates from the Portfolio Manager score as follows:

  • 4 stars = 81 - 100 or 61 - 80 if 10-point improvement in last two calendar years;
  • 3 stars = 61 - 80 or 41 - 60 if 10-point improvement in last two calendar years;
  • 2 stars = 41 - 60 or 11 - 40 if 10-point improvement in the last two calendar years;
  • 1 star   = 40 or below; and
  • 0 stars = did not submit required benchmarking information by the deadline.

If a building does not have a Portfolio Manager energy performance score, the rating will be based on the building’s energy use intensity (EUI) value. Buildings that are exempt from the benchmarking requirements will not receive a rating. Similarly, buildings that don’t receive a Portfolio Manager score (or EUI) for technical reasons will not be given a rating.

Requirement to Disclose Energy Rating

The Commissioner of BACP will provide buildings with energy rating cards stating their annual rating. Each building is required to “conspicuously post the energy rating card so that it is visible to the general public and visitors prior to or upon entering the building.” 

Additionally, Chicago buildings required to energy benchmark must disclose the current energy rating to a “tenant, applicant, or prospective buyer” when executing or applying for a lease or purchase agreement for the building (entire or a portion). The tenant, applicant, or prospective buyer must sign a receipt confirming the rating information was disclosed. The rating must also be shared in any advertisements for selling or leasing the building. 

Inclusion of Water Usage

The Amendments also add “water usage” to the definition of “reported benchmarking information.” The Commissioner of BACP may receive building water usage information from the Commissioner of the Department of Water Management and share the information with the public. Also, building owners may, but are not required to, include water usage data in a building’s benchmarking.

Future of Chicago Energy Benchmarking Amendments

The City is hoping the Amendments will encourage greater energy efficiency. Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel joined the mayors of 377 cities in their commitment to adopt the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement in response to President Trump’s call for withdrawal from the 2015 accord. The cities that have committed to meeting the Paris Climate Agreement’s targets are looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including through energy efficiency. New York City recently announced a first-of-its-kind plan to mandate building retrofits to reduce fossil fuel consumption.

The addition of water usage data to energy benchmarking is no longer novel. Communities are including water usage data in their energy benchmarking programs, even locally. Evanston, Illinois adopted a benchmarking ordinance in December of 2016 that requires annual reporting of city and private building’s energy and water use. Similarly, Cook County’s energy benchmarking program, adopted in 2014, requires county buildings to benchmark both energy and water consumption.

There was opposition to the Amendments, in particular, concern has been raised about the new rating system being imposed on building owners. 

At the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards meeting on November 14, 2017,  a number of environmental organization spoke in support of the Amendments. While they are in favor of energy benchmarking, the Building Owners and Managers Association and the Chicago Apartment Association raised concerns about the four-star rating system they see as overly simplistic, easily misunderstood by consumers, and possibly stigmatize certain buildings. In addition, the point was made that the Energy Star rating system is nationally recognized and it may not make sense for Chicago to develop its own local four-star system.

In response to these concerns, the Chicago Chief Sustainability Officer committed to including a building’s Energy Star rating on the proposed placard in addition to the new Chicago four-star rating. Also, Alderman Reilly requested that the City work together will all interested stakeholders when promulgating the rules implementing the Amendments.

The full Chicago City Council passed the amendments at their meeting on November 21, 2017. We will continue to monitor these Amendments to the Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance as their related rules are developed.

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