Minimizing the penalties of Local Law 97-2019 with big data and simple solutions - by Ed Bosco

March 24, 2020 - Spotlights

Local Law 97-2019 was passed by the New York City Council in 2019 to establish a plan for the reduction of greenhouse gases related to the operation of buildings identified in the law. Prior to Local Law 97, the only legally enforceable energy performance requirements for a building were identified and evaluated at the time of original construction. A DOB filing during the construction process confirms compliance with prescriptive requirements for each element of the building skin and the equipment used to heat, cool and light the building. An alternate process allows computer generated energy models based on operating assumptions to prove code compliance. Local Law 97 adds complexity to the energy discussion by adding financial penalties to new and existing buildings based on the carbon produced by the metered energy consumed by a building over the course of a year. Some calculations indicate that the cost of the penalties will exceed the cost of the electricity consumed so they are not insignificant.

Typical commercial energy rates include charges for the energy consumed and an additional charge related to the peak electric demand of the building. This encouraged cost-saving strategies that leveled out the consumption to reduce peak demand charges. Local Law 97 compliance and penalties are determined by the total energy consumption of the building so peak shaving is not a means to reducing penalties under Local Law 97.

All energy consumed in the filing period contributes to the calculation of the potential penalty so the path to avoiding the penalties is reducing energy use wherever possible. Every hour of operation of air conditioning, heating systems, refrigerators, light bulbs, office equipment and similar loads contributes to an annual consumption total which is compared against a baseline to determine the penalties associated with the law.

The penalties related to the law go into effect in 2024 and become increasingly strict in 2030 so building owners have some time to formulate an action plan. An advisory board has been established to develop the details of the implementation of the law but the fundamentals of how the law works are already determined by the legislation. Considering the ideas below will help reduce the size of potential future penalties.

Deploy Big Data

30 years ago building owners and their engineers approached energy efficiency by attacking the high energy use building systems that had traditionally caused higher than necessary energy consumption in typical buildings. Building Management System (BMS) use was typically limited to institutional buildings and select commercial buildings and the interaction of the operating engineers with these building systems was limited to the adjustment of room temperature setpoints and the response to alarms indicating a system failure. Today, the use of BMS systems is much more common and our ability to collect operational data has been significantly improved. Cheap data storage means that years of operating data can be collected and analyzed in search of trends that reduce occupant comfort or cause unnecessary energy use. Building engineers, and the consulting engineers that support them, have been increasingly applying big data analysis to the real-time information collected by BMS systems to create higher performing environments for commercial, research, assembly, museum and hospitality environments. The availability of good historical operating data helps expand the understanding of building operations.

If you have a BMS or other means to record the conditions, equipment operation and energy use in a building you should start trending and analyzing the building performance data to the extent the system can support. If your building doesn’t have any performance monitoring, consider implementing baseline monitoring of high energy use systems so you can start to understand how energy is used.

Don’t Wait

Compliance is based on public benchmarks so energy consumption at a building prior to the effective date of the law is not considered in the penalty determination. The penalties of Local Law 97 make it likely that buildings will need to implement changes in the near future so why not start implementing today and generating the energy and cost savings earlier.

Attack Equipment with High Operating Hours First 

Penalties are based on energy consumption so devices with high operating hours will generate a larger penalty than devices and equipment with low operating hours. Look for lighting that runs 24 hours a day and equipment like refrigerators that run 8,760 hours a year.

Leave No Stone Unturned

Penalties are determined by the total energy consumed by the building above the benchmark so all work that reduces energy consumption helps reduce penalties. Damaged weatherstripping, leaky windows, missing or failed pipe insulation, failed steam traps, poorly closing doors, etc. all contribute to energy waste and increased penalties. Incandescent light bulbs were phased out a few years ago but replacing any remaining incandescent lamps is a simple way to start addressing the requirements of Local Law 97.

Ed Bosco, PE, LEED AP BD+C, is a managing principal at me engineers, New York, N.Y.

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