Stamford — For most businesses, saving energy is far down a list of other priorities. But at a two-day energy efficiency summit in Stamford this week, the sustainability director for one of the country’s largest financial services institutions told the audience that energy efficiency should be at the top.
Speaking to a diverse group of business owners, advocates, policymakers and consultants at the Hilton-Stamford Wednesday, Nick Stolatis described $17 million in energy savings for Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund, or TIAA-CREF, a Fortune 100 company.
Most of those savings were achieved simply by tracking energy usage — the key first step in making buildings more energy-efficient, attendees of the conference agreed.
“You cannot manage something you cannot measure,” said Stolatis. “Did that $17 million flow to our bottom line? Not necessarily. But it’s made our buildings more competitive.”
Some of the changes TIAA-CREF made to the buildings in its real estate portfolio were almost laughingly simple, including switching out lightbulbs and improving the accuracy electronic sensors that are supposed to turn off the lights when everyone leaves a room.
“Just changing schedules in a building of when the lights go on and off and when the heating and cooling systems go on and off…that alone is something that can save substantial amounts of energy in a building at very low cost,” said Cody Taylor, an energy policy specialist with the U.S. Department of Energy.
Taylor said DOE’s Building Technologies Program aims to reduce building emissions by 50 percent in one year at a cost only of 5 cents per kilowatt hour.
But very few businesses think about the potential of energy cost savings. Getting them to do so might require a little policy nudge, such as requiring businesses and others to accurately measure their energy usage — perhaps generating a “miles-per-gallon” type rating — and publicly disclose it.
Dozens of countries have such policies, but the U.S. is not among them. Any initiatives to make buildings greener has come from individual cities and states, of which there are only a handful.
In the Northeast, those include New York City, Washington, D.C., and the state of Maine, while on the West Coast, California and Washington have mandatory rating and disclosure policies for commercial buildings.
A proposal to require that certain Connecticut buildings disclose how much energy they consume made its way through the General Assembly this year. But it was watered down to apply only to public buildings, and it was never voted on.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Dan Esty, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said they agree with the concept of requiring energy disclosure.
“We think there is an opportunity here to use information as an energy strategy, and we’re committed to picking up that legislation and trying to advance it in the year ahead,” Esty said in an interview at the summit.
New York City is one of the only places in the country where nearly all buildings will have to disclose their energy use. So far that applies to city-owned buildings, and the mandate will extend to nonresidential commercial buildings this fall. Residential buildings will have to start complying in September 2013.
Hilary Beber, a policy adviser in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office, said the policies are crucial to reducing pollution because 75 percent of the city’s emissions come from buildings. Making them more energy-efficient will have a much bigger impact on improving the environment than any other initiative, even actions such as improving public transportation.
Whether that’s the case in Connecticut is unclear, because no one knows how much energy buildings consume. But because commercial buildings are far more spread out than they are in New York, it may be more difficult to implement disclosure policies.
“It’s really disaggregated,” said Candace Damon, an analyst with HR&A Advisors, an New York-based energy-efficiency consulting firm, referring to the commercial real estate in Connecticut. Cities, like Hartford, Stamford, Norwalk and New Haven, are home to only 35 percent of the state’s commercial office buildings. So that means “just getting out the message is complicated.”
Esty said that is where a more central government can be the guide, as opposed to individual cities. “We’re a small state,” he said. “It’s much more likely that state government will be able to take the lead.”
Speaking to an audience of about 200 at the summit Thursday, Malloy said Connecticut is evaluating the energy use of state-owned buildings and has allocated $15 million for energy efficiency upgrades.
“We are working to put the state’s house in order first,” said Malloy. The aim is to reduce energy emissions in state-owned buildings by 10 percent by January 2013 and an additional 5 percent in the next five years.
Still, the public can’t actually see the state of Connecticut’s utility bill — at least not yet.
“I think we’ve still got to figure out whether there are questions about privacy,” said Esty, referring to buildings that might be rented by the state instead of owned. In those cases, property owners may not agree to public disclosure of their buildings’ “green” rating.
The “privacy” of a business’ energy rating was a contentious topic at the summit this week — along with the cost and administrative burden of measuring, and publishing, energy usage.
But most at the conference seemed to agree there was a need to think about long-term savings, not just short-term costs.
“There’s no better time to do this because we need to save people money,” said Jim O’Reilly, public policy director for Northeast Energy and Efficiency Partnerships, a nonprofit advocacy group that organizes the annual summit.
At the same time, he said, an entire industry could sprout from new requirements for buildings to be more energy-efficient.
“We’re in a very bad place right now in terms of our construction sector [employment],” O’Reilly said. “How about taking those people and giving them good jobs in the clean energy economy that allows them to do things like rating and benchmarking and auditing?”
The consulting industry for energy efficiency has expanded dramatically in New York City since the disclosure policies took effect. Beber said firms call her daily asking if she knows which cities or states are on the verge of passing similar laws.
According to a study from the Institute of Market Transformation, an energy research firm in Washington, D.C., a national policy on energy rating and disclosure for buildings could create 23,000 new jobs by 2015 and 59,000 by 2020. Savings in energy costs could exceed $18 billion that same year.
“Cheaper, cleaner and more reliable. That has to be our energy mantra,” Malloy told his audience Thursday. “Unfortunately we’re not seeing much in the way of productive debate and productive answers when it comes to this challenge.”
Malloy pointed out that since Connecticut has the second-highest cost of electricity in the United States, after Hawaii, market forces should have driven it to be the most energy-efficient state in the nation. But it only ranks 8th. That’s where government can step in.
“Our strategy in Connecticut is to unleash the power of private capital,” Malloy said. “The rules of the marketplace apply even to renewable energy.”
The script and audio of a version of this story run by our media partner, WNPR, is available at yourpublicmedia.org