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How Can DC Building Owners Comply With The City’s New Energy Performance Standards?

Updated: Sep 13, 2023


Next to “DC,” there are no initials higher up in the minds of Washington commercial real estate building owners than “BEPS.” These letters stand for DC’s new Building Energy Performance Standards program, which builds on benchmarking requirements the district implemented in 2015.


These standards have been constructed around the median Energy Star score for buildings, which measures how efficiently a building is using energy. Starting in 2021, all DC buildings 50K SF or greater must comply with these standards or face consequences. The first compliance cycle began Jan. 1 and ends Dec. 31, 2026. By the third compliance cycle, all buildings 10K SF or greater will be expected to comply.


“These standards were born out of the DC Clean Energy Act and were developed based on the idea that, because most of DC’s energy use comes from commercial buildings, a reduction on a citywide scale is possible and necessary,” Boland Energy Performance Engineer Jessica Cremen said.


Cremen and her team at Boland have been working to help building owners and developers comply with these new standards. Bisnow recently sat down with her to learn more about how building owners can prepare, what the consequences could be if they don’t comply and what BEPS means for the future of DC buildings.


Bisnow: Can you tell me a bit more about the BEPS program and what it means for DC buildings?


Cremen: There are six-year phases to this program, and each phase will require buildings to continually reduce their energy use. We are currently in Phase 1, which means that every privately owned building over 50K SF and every DC government-owned building over 10K SF must be benchmarking its data through the Energy Star Portfolio Manager. This means having their electric and gas bills documented in a portfolio on the Energy Star website.


Most DC buildings are actually already compliant, which is great. The buildings that are not compliant will have to work to meet these requirements by reducing their energy use. There are also alternative pathways to compliance if the scores aren't possible. For example, office buildings will need a score of 71, so if you're starting out with, say, a 14, you’re probably not going to get to a 71 by the end of Phase 1, but the Department of Energy and Environment is really willing to work with buildings in any way that they can.


Bisnow: What sort of penalties will buildings be facing if they don't comply?


Cremen: The penalties are based on the building’s square footage. A 50K SF building would have to pay a $500K fine, while a 200K SF building would be fined closer to $5M. The fines, however, will be adjusted based on how close buildings get to the reduction standards set by the program. So if buildings get 50% of the way there, for example, maybe a 10% reduction in energy usage, it's half of the fine. It's not just all or nothing.


Bisnow: What steps should owners of existing buildings take to retrofit their buildings to comply with the new program?


Cremen: First and foremost, building owners should consult with energy and legislation experts like Boland who have the resources to evaluate the energy implications of their current building design choices. They can work with companies like ours to implement what we will call a continuous improvement plan. This is where a building’s performance, from the HVAC equipment to the building as a whole, can be evaluated and continually modernized. We would look for places to reduce energy and give them a very specific pathway toward projects that would result in energy savings.


Our Applied Building Insights Team works with owners to perform quarterly analytics and makes recommendations for something as simple as adjusting setpoints to providing financial justification for equipment replacements to developing phased plans to attain specific sustainability targets. Project types include building automation systems upgrades or control upgrades, HVAC repairs or replacements, lighting upgrades and energy supply services — really anything that helps clients achieve their building goals.


Bisnow: What measures can developers of new properties take to ensure their buildings comply with the program?


Cremen: They should follow the same steps as owners of existing buildings — make sure they're using the latest and greatest technologies and a building automation system that is capable of controlling all major equipment with a variety of optimization sequences. This allows for the most versatility in operating the buildings. Again, this likely means consulting with a company such as Boland that has these resources to be able to evaluate the design choices being made and to implement a continuous commissioning plan.


Boland’s Applied Building Insights Team is set up to help buildings transition into this next phase of energy usage. We currently have ongoing relationships with all of our DC clients where we help them benchmark their data in the Energy Star Portfolio Manager. We perform quarterly analytics using an equipment-level analysis and a general building analysis to provide recommendations. This streamlines the entire process, reducing the compliance burden for building owners and operators.


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