Some Toronto condominium corporations may soon be required to track and disclose data relating to their buildings’ efficiency as the city pursues mandatory energy use reporting. On March 3, the city’s parks and environment committee asked staff to report back in one year with a proposed energy efficiency bylaw that would apply to large commercial and multi-residential buildings.
The move came at the request of councillors Sarah Doucette, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Mike Layton, Chin Lee and Shelley Carroll. In a joint letter, they described benchmarking as a powerful tool to reduce energy and water use in large buildings. What’s more, mandatory energy reporting would do for existing buildings what the Toronto Green Standard has done for energy efficiency in new buildings.
“With about 60 per cent of Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions associated with existing buildings and significant constraints on energy and water supply, it is also important to reduce energy and water demand of Toronto’s current building stock,” the councillors wrote.
Toby Heaps is the executive director of the Council for Clean Capitalism. Working alongside Julia Langer of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, Heaps was one of the people who pitched the idea for mandatory energy use reporting to Toronto. He points out that the practice of energy use reporting is gaining traction in the United States.
“Many jurisdictions have implemented it starting with large buildings — generally over 50,000 square feet — sometimes starting in the commercial sector and then going into the broader multi-residential,” he says.
The group of companies that Heaps represents at the council is seeking to integrate environmental and social costs into economic decision-making so that responsible businesses are rewarded in the marketplace. Much like a consumer looks at the fuel efficiency of a car in assessing what it will cost to operate, mandatory energy reporting would allow prospective tenants to look at the energy performance of a building in assessing likely utility costs, Heaps explains.
New York City would provide a natural template for Toronto to follow, Heaps says. Not only is its mandatory energy reporting system held up as an exemplar, the city is also a financial centre with a comparable climate.
In his view, the bylaw needs to be mandatory in order to be effective. It must also set a clear standard and be transparent to the public. Annual reporting is a good start, but he says that real-time reporting could be an eventual goal.
Heaps identifies the Canadian version of Energy Star Portfolio Manager as a clear choice for a reporting tool, based on feedback from industry players.
Today, the best-in-class performers are usually the only ones that are benchmarking their energy performance. What limited data are available are inconsistent, making it difficult draw any meaningful conclusions or trends.
Kim Pressnail, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Civil Engineering, and Marianne Touchie, Ph.D. candidate, encountered this firsthand when they set about investigating correlations between building characteristics and energy use.
Collecting consistent data would also allow policymakers to target the worst performing buildings.
“For example, if we can find a really strong correlation between old boilers and energy-intensive buildings, then the city could develop a policy or incentive to make it easier for building owners to retrofit old boilers,” Touchie says.
The mandatory reporting should at least include energy use, hydro use and floor area to allow for the calculation of equivalent kilowatt-hour per square metre, Pressnail says. The area of the common elements versus suites, and identifying spaces such as gyms and pools that can have a significant impact on energy use, would be a bonus, he adds.
Touchie’s research focuses on multi-unit residential buildings, for which she anticipates privacy will be a concern. She says that implementation of any bylaw should occur in phases, first requiring reporting to the city and then moving to public disclosure.
“You don’t necessarily want to start off by broadcasting what your energy use is, because I think that would get people’s backs up a little bit,” she says. “They really haven’t had an opportunity to improve the energy performance of their building before they’re being forced to show it.”
Pressnail is also supervising a master’s degree student who is researching the effects that improving a commercial building’s energy performance has on the market. Early findings indicate that such investments enable property owners to charge higher rents, thereby increasing property value.
“Ultimately, that’s where energy reporting can lead us,” Pressnail says. “It will help us distinguish (buildings) in the marketplace and reward people who have better properties and more responsible properties — ones that have less of a burden on the environment, and less of a burden on the pocketbook, too.”
While crafting the bylaw, Toronto staff are expected to consult with key utilities, industry stakeholders including building owners and property managers, and relevant government agencies at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.
An interim report, due August 2014, will outline potential criteria by which buildings would be included in the program, for example, the sizes and types of buildings. It will also include a probable implementation schedule that allows the potential to phase in the program.
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness magazine.