Owners of smaller commercial and multi-residential buildings in Ontario will still be welcome to voluntarily share energy and water consumption data, but a looming deadline for mandatory disclosure has been withdrawn. A recently announced move to halt the phased rollout of the provincial energy and water reporting and benchmarking (EWRB) program comes just ahead of the scheduled 2020 inclusion of buildings in the 50,000 to 99,999-square-foot range.
“It probably makes sense to take a pause to scrutinize the data they’ve collected from larger buildings thus far and really understand what it is showing,” suggests Tony Irwin, president and chief executive officer of the Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO). “That data still has not been released to the public.”
The move is part of a package of initiatives proposed in, or promised in conjunction with, omnibus legislation introduced in late October. Bill 132, the Better for People, Smarter of Business Act, would amend or repeal dozens of provincial statutes, while accompanying government documentation also promises numerous complementary regulatory changes that don’t require legislative approval and aren’t specifically referenced in the bill. The latter includes adjustments to the EWRB rules.
Under the regulation, 2017 consumption data for commercial buildings of at least 250,000 square feet had to be submitted no later than July 1, 2018; 2018 data for commercial and multi-residential buildings of at least 100,000 square feet was due by July 1, 2019. Approximately 9,000 buildings tagged for the third phase are now released from the requirement to submit 2019 consumption data.
“For smaller building owners with fewer staffing resources, the reporting requirements can be burdensome,” an associated Ontario government backgrounder maintains. “The affected group of smaller building owners could save up to a total of $2.7 million from this change.”
This group was already exempt from third-party verification stipulations placed on larger properties. The regulation requires verification from a qualified person — “such as a certified energy manager, building operator, measurement and verification professional or commissioning agent” — in the first year, and at subsequent five-year intervals, that data is submitted for buildings of at least 100,000 square feet.
Industry insiders speculate that smaller landlords were perhaps more nervous about enforced comparison with their peers. “They were concerned that the data gathered from the reporting would be used in future to impose a form of carbon tax depending on whether they performed better or worse than prescribed benchmarks drawn from data submitted,” says Joe Hoffer, a partner and specialist in residential tenancy and municipal law with Cohen Highley LLP.
This is the second time the Ontario government has tinkered with the regulation since taking office. Last year, as part of the Green Energy Repeal Act, EWRB was among select provisions transferred to the Electricity Act to be retained beyond the demise of the original enabling legislation. The Bill 132 backgrounder appears to echo that earlier endorsement.
“The Energy and Water Reporting and Benchmarking program allows building owners to review a building’s energy and water use and compare its own past performance and the performance of other similar buildings,” it states. “Having access to this information helps them manage energy and water usage and costs to make decisions on cost-effective investments for future energy efficiency upgrades.”
Since reporting occurs via ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, access will remain straightforward for owners/managers of smaller properties who opt to do so voluntarily. However, energy management specialists caution that voluntary opt-in will likely diminish the insight that could otherwise be gleaned from buildings in the 50,000 to 99,999-square-foot range.
“For those who don’t benchmark their buildings or use the reporting tools, they won’t know where they stand versus their peers. For those who use the tools, the reporting will be less valuable with a smaller number of buildings to compare themselves against,” says Rob Detta Colli, manager, energy and sustainability, with Crossbridge Condominium Services.
Barbara Carss is editor-in-chief of Canadian Property Management.