Measuring Up to Lord Kelvin
By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.
August 16, 2006
As Lord Kelvin taught us, to measure is to know. Today, in a time of deepening concern with climate change and the rising costs and global politics of energy, this aphorism matters more than ever. Now, too, New York's Mayor Bloomberg is on record as seeking to tame the City's ravenous consumption of electric power through energy efficiency and demand reduction programs. His 2004 Energy Policy Report and annual status reports commit his administration to "leading by example". So, it seems like a good idea to look at the record to see what the administration measures and what is known about reducing our energy appetite.
The Mayor's press release issued in June 2006, when the latest annual energy policy update was released, trumpets the "City's capability to meet its energy needs and stave off the need for new resources until at least 2012." Under the headline "leading by example", the press release highlighted the energy saving potential of the City's new green building law, as well as "working with private developers to include green building strategies in their designs". All good, but where are some measures of "leading by example"? Since press releases are constrained by the need for brevity, a review of other public documents is in order to learn more about how to measure what local government doing.
Let's look at the fine print of the 2006 Status Report. Nine sets of recommendations fall under the category "NYC-Leading by Example". At first glance, a lot seems to be happening. The City is entering into new contracts for energy efficiency and is developing an educational program to promote energy efficiency best practices by government facility managers. The City even has a new law that requires private developers who get tax breaks to purchase energy efficient Energy Star appliances. But a closer inspection of the report raises more questions than it answers. The status report's three "Strategic Energy Planning" recommendations for leading by example don't look much like strategic plans. They don't lay out goals or provide measurements of projects already underway. There's no data here about the City's own electricity consumption and utility bills that would provide a baseline for understanding just how well the City is "leading by example"in reducing energy use. Reporting that the City has surveyed "the 200 largest energy consuming facilities" is a plus, but the cryptic description, "survey results show at least 30 percent of non-process facilities have had partial or full energy upgrades in the past decade" fails to deliver the informational goods.
Nevertheless, the 2006 update includes some enticing evidence of future strategic energy planning, including a broad-based energy management plan to be completed in late 2006 and a study under the auspices of the City's Economic Development Corporation that will analyze the administration's current economic development incentives intended to encourage developments in energy efficiency. We look forward to reading the 2007 Status Report to see how this strategic plan is advancing and hope that Lord Kelvin's aphorism will guide it.
Looking back, Torchlight No. 5, which searched for evidence of sustainable government energy policy and found that the City lacks one. But I noted that issuing the Energy Report and enacting the green building law demonstrated that the City was making credible strides in the direction of taming its spiraling energy appetite. Only a few months later, there is scant evidence that New York City's spiraling energy demand has been tamed in any way. According to the Mayor's Office of Energy Conservation figures, the City planned to spend more than $614 million on electricity, gas and steam in Fiscal Year 2006, more than 18% higher than the previous year's figure (get DCAS cite). Would the projected 2006 number have been even higher if the City had no conservation programs? Based on available evidence, no one can say. Time to dig deeper.
The webpage for the Office of Energy Conservation also states only, "OEC encourages energy conservation at City agencies through a variety of direct and indirect channels. Through monthly usage reports and periodic outreach meetings, it provides information that agency representatives at both the facility and budget levels can use to identify savings opportunities. It participates in intra-City task forces in establishing conservation goals... Finally, it has the contractual authority to implement facility upgrades that conserve energy and have other environmental benefits." What OEC doesn't say is whether it set goals to be met and if it's established measurements of the impact of its work. This is not a trivial silence. At bottom, based upon this public information, we cannot say which agencies and facilities are now saving energy and we cannot even say whether the City knows the answers.
The City is already on notice about the need to establish clear and measurable goals for its energy conservation efforts. In June 2005, the NYC Comptroller's Office issued an audit, FR04_089A, that found the City's Office of Energy Conservation has neither "developed effective overall strategies for managing energy conservation" nor "established or attempted to promulgate energy reduction goals for City agencies." This is pretty strong stuff. Is it justified? Is it fair? Is it simply outdated? It sounds so different than the Mayor's own account of "leading by example".
Turning finally to the Preminary Fiscal 2006 Mayor's Management Report as the City's most authoritative annual overview of its operations, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the agency that includes OEC, lists procuring energy on behalf of City agencies and promoting energy conservation as a "critical goal". Yet, on the performance report page the only measurements related to meeting this critical goal are the City's energy and total electricity from Fiscal Year 03–05. In Fiscal Year 03, the City purchased 4.02 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and in Fiscal year 05 it purchased 4.06 billion kilowatt hours. Lord Kelvin surely would be disappointed with this information because it is impossible to measure the impact of OEC's effort in the absence of program goals or benchmarks to measure its achievements. The rest of us would have to be disappointed because energy use went up, not down. That's why the findings of the Comptroller's audit are so important.
But let us not end on a down note. Let us look forward, instead, to the delivery on the promises of the Mayor's 2006 status report — that the City will soon have a broad-based energy management plan and will hammer out effective links between its economic development incentives and energy conservation. To really deliver on these promises also means that the City must design strategies and programs that build in the ability to measure what it wants to achieve and what it is achieving. How else can we know if the City is "leading by example" and how else can we know where we are going? We can be certain that climate change and the spiraling costs and risky global politics of energy are the baseline against which everything will be measured.