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Monday, November 17, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

Austin Energy works to increase ECAD compliance

The city’s Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance went fully into effect this year, and Austin Energy staff say they are happy with the program’s progress and optimistic about its future.

City Council adopted the ordinance in 2008 to keep property owners and potential buyers aware of how their buildings stack up with similar ones in terms of energy efficiency.

“What we’re seeing is a general upward trend in compliance rates, which is a good thing,” Vice President of Customer Energy Solutions Deborah Kimberly told the Austin Monitor after a Council Committee on Austin Energy meeting Thursday. “What I want to do is to get more property owners adopting energy efficiency measures.”

Kimberly reported at the meeting that, as of August, multifamily compliance is at 80 percent, residential is at 52 percent, large commercial is at 62 percent, midsize commercial is at 48 percent and smaller commercial is at 31 percent. All city buildings have reported.

ECAD requires that the property owners of certain residential, multifamily and commercial buildings participate in energy efficiency audits at particular times or intervals. The city or independent auditor then provides property owners with a breakdown of their building’s energy use compared to buildings of a similar size and use, with suggestions for ways to improve efficiency, if necessary.

Kimberly said that getting property owners to participate in the audits is only part of the city’s goal. “The conversion part — participation in our programs — is where the real intent was,” she said. “That’s a tough sell sometimes in a community where you’re looking at very low vacancy rates, but I think we’ve been successful.”

Kimberly said the city offers incentives to get property owners to participate in audits and to make energy improvements, pointing toward the 80 percent multifamily compliance rate as evidence of its success.

“If those customers want to receive a rebate under a multifamily system, they have to go through the ECAD audit process,” she said. “We’ve seen a trend in improvement in terms of energy consumption and especially older multifamily properties — those that were built in the 1985 era or thereabouts.”

With exceptions, owners of residential buildings that are at least 10 years old and fall within city limits and the AE service area must participate in an energy audit before selling the property and disclose the results to the buyer. These include single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes.

Kimberly said that staff has been increasing outreach efforts, including working with the Austin Board of Realtors, to get more residential property owners to comply.

Owners of commercial buildings that are 10,000 square feet or larger, fall within city limits and receive electricity from AE must submit annual audits by June 1 of each year. They must also disclose the building’s energy audit results to a buyer before a sale is executed.

Commercial building owners have been required to submit their own usage data for audit and analysis by AE using an online portfolio manager platform. The utility then provides the owner with an energy rating for the building between zero and 100, with 100 being a perfect score.

The ECAD ordinance first went into effect in 2009. Multifamily properties began reporting in 2011 and larger commercial buildings 75,000 square feet or larger in 2012, followed by midsize commercial buildings between 30,000 and 75,000 square feet in 2013 and smaller commercial buildings between 10,000 and 30,000 square feet in 2014.

Kimberly said that, aside from being most recently integrated into the ordinance, smaller commercial buildings may have the lowest compliance rates because they often have smaller management teams.

“That property owner is also the payroll manager, the human resources director and ordering supplies — he’s doing it all,” Kimberly said. “So, going through the compliance reporting process has been difficult.”

Kimberly said that staff has been working out ways to make compliance a more streamlined process and plans to launch a more proactive audit process in 2015 that provides commercial customers with their usage information, rather than requiring them to submit it themselves. Owners will then need to log in to the portfolio manager and verify or correct the results.

Owners of multifamily properties that consist of five or more dwelling units, fall within city limits and receive electricity from AE must participate in an audit in the calendar year in which the property turns 10 years old. The audit is valid for 10 years, and the owner must provide the results to prospective residents and current residents upon request or lease renewal.

Residential and multifamily property owners must have their audits conducted by a registered ECAD energy professional. Though they set their own prices, AE estimates the average residential audit will cost between $200 and $300 for a typical single-family home that is 1,800 square feet or smaller and has one air-conditioning system.

ECAD does not require that owners of residential or commercial properties make improvements. However, owners of multifamily properties must reduce their building’s energy use by 20 percent within 18 months if its per-square-foot usage exceeds 150 percent of the average for its category.

Noncompliance is considered a Class C misdemeanor, punishable with fines between $500 and $2,000. Kimberly said the city does not actively issue citations, but anyone can file a complaint with the City of Austin Municipal Courts for review and action. She added that she has not heard of anyone doing that so far.

In the end, Kimberly said, customers are the real winners. “Property owners are benefiting, because that increases the marketability of their property,” she said. “The most important thing, I believe, is driving participation in our program so that our customers can save energy, and they can save money.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Energy: As a municipally-owned electric utility, Austin Energy is a rarity in the largely deregulated State of Texas. It's annual budget clocks in at over $1 billion. The utility's annual direct transfer of a Council-determined percentage of its revenues offers the city a notable revenue stream.

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