July 23, 2012 | Marshall Duer-Balkind

On July 20, the District of Columbia took another important step toward requiring that all large private buildings be energy benchmarked: the city published a second proposed rulemaking in the DC register, along with supporting guidance documents. You can read all these documents, including an extensive FAQ, on the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) 

Why Regulations Matter

The publication of a proposed rulemaking is not the stuff of news headlines. It’s not sexy. At first glance, it seems only of interest to lawyers and the most dedicated energy efficiency geeks. But as I’ve seen first-hand over the past eight months, it is in the details of implementation that groundbreaking policies succeed—or fail.

Without implementing regulations, many laws are just ink on a page. And yes, poorly
 thought-out regulations can create red tape and headaches, as many a politician these days will tell you. But good regulations streamline the process and resolve potential problems before they arise—and before they end up being addressed, at much greater cost, in a courtroom.

The regulations and guidance documents that DDOE just released aim to meet this higher standard. The department has made significant changes from the previous rulemaking, drawing not only on extensive public feedback, but also on the experiences of the other cities—New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas—that have also put in place mandatory energy-benchmarking policies. Last winter, DDOE took the set of changes being considered to public meetings for further feedback, and then made another round of changes.

It's great that the regulations are finally seeing the light of day, not only because it moves DC closer to actually collecting data from buildings across the city, but also because, in my opinion, the regulations represent a compilation of best practices in energy benchmarking that others can look to.

Support From IMT

It has been a long journey to get to this point, and IMT has provided essential support to the District at every stage. As an IMT staff member on detail to DDOE, I work full-time supporting the department with all aspects of the benchmarking program, from the regulation drafting to public outreach to database design and administration.

While the District was the first city in the U.S. to institute laws for measurement and disclosure of private building energy use back in 2008, other cities have followed suit, and in some cases made greater progress on implementation. Through conferences, publications, and calls, IMT has facilitated frequent conversations among the cities, so that we can all learn from one another.

Finally, recognizing that building owners often need a "one stop shop" for technical support if they are to comply successfully with benchmarking requirements, IMT and the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DC SEU) have created a DC Benchmarking Help Center. This center will feature a hotline people can call for assistance with benchmarking software (ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manger) and with DC requirements in particular, as well as offering in-person technical trainings.

The free hotline, which will begin operating next month, can be reached at

DC stakeholders who wish to provide comment on the new regulations can email 
info.benchmark@dc.gov or attend a public meeting at DDOE, 1200 First Street NE, Room 1012A, Washington, DC, on July 31 at 12 noon.

Marshall Duer-Balkind is an IMT program analyst on detail at the District Department of the
 Environment’s Office of Policy and Sustainability.

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Marshall Duer-Balkind

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