After two years of availability to the multifamily apartment industry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Portfolio Manager energy measurement, tracking, and benchmarking tool is beginning to see wider adoption among utility-minded apartment owners and operators. As of November 2010, the energy performance of more than 1,500 multifamily buildings has been measured through Portfolio Manager, according to the Washington, D.C.-based agency. That’s more than double the 600 properties that had participated as of February 2010. 

“There has been a continuous increase in the number of multifamily properties tracking energy use data in Portfolio Manager since the ability to do so became available in February 2009,” the EPA said in an e-mail to Multifamily Executive. “It continues to be important to inform multifamily building owners and operators that Portfolio Manager offers valuable energy management capability for their organizations.”

Originally designed for non-residential commercial real estate, Portfolio Manager tracks dozens of metrics across energy, financial, and environmental data categories and was a key tool in establishing the Energy Star building certification program. For multifamily, Portfolio Manager tool allows apartment building owners and operators to track weather-normalized energy use intensity data over time and compare performance across a portfolio of multifamily buildings. According to the EPA, multifamily adopters have used the system to prioritize cap-ex investments, verify and track progress of projects, identify under-performing facilities, be more responsive to utility issues, and identify billing errors.

“We feel that Portfolio Manager is a meaningful energy management tool that allows apartment firms to track their portfolio's energy and water performance, identify underperforming properties, set investment priorities, and assess the results of retrofit and capital improvement projects,” says Paula Cino, director of energy and environmental policy at the National Multi Housing Council in Washington, D.C. “But unlike commercial buildings, apartments still cannot benchmark their performance against their peers or earn a building-wide Energy Star rating. This is a goal we continue to pursue with EPA.”

Multifamily Mandates
According to the EPA, there simply aren’t enough properties currently using Portfolio Tracker to establish the meaningful baseline data necessary to begin formulating a multifamily-specific Energy Star program. “The creation of an Energy Star performance scale for any commercial building type requires a statistically valid and nationally representative data set, and currently, there is no such data set readily available for the multifamily housing market,” the agency says, adding that the EPA is working with Fannie Mae to explore the viability of a cross-agency data-set development effort.

“Fannie Mae provides the financing on nearly 25 percent of the nation’s estimated 15.2 million multifamily residential units, including market-rate and subsidized housing units, so they offer a unique opportunity to help EPA explore the feasibility of a data set that is robust and meets the requirements of the Energy Star program,” EPA says.

Municipalities looking to legislate the use of Portfolio Manager might boost the number of participating apartment companies sooner rather than later. In an effort to benchmark and ultimately decrease carbon emissions, New York City has passed legislation mandating the use of Portfolio Manager by all multifamily buildings by 2013, and similar efforts are underway in Seattle, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas. Before that happens, multifamily energy advocates are attempting to get the system more apartment-friendly.

“Portfolio Manager was really designed with commercial base-points which obviously doesn’t work well with multifamily,” says AUM president Michael Miller, president of Oak Brook, Ill.-based multifamily utility services firm AUM (American Utility Management). “We’ve been working with the agency to see if they can alter some of the data points, and they are looking for feedback on how they can enhance portfolio manager.” One critical issue is how apartment firms will provide property-level data to Portfolio Manager if they are unfamiliar with energy benchmarking. Sourcing complex and voluminous energy data from property managers could prove to be counter-productive to energy benchmarking and carbon reduction efforts. “That’s just not what they do,” Miller says.

Utility management firms like AUM and Irvine, Calif.-based NWP Services Corporation are already providing their clients with direct integration and data reporting to Portfolio Manager, which could ease the administrative burden to firms that are mandated to participate at the local level. “We’re integrating our benchmarking database of gas electric, water, sewer and waste with the EPA’s database and expect to have a formal product launch in June,” says NWP senior vice president Jim Charles. “We have three of the top 10 multifamily portfolios that requested that interface and are working with us to develop its integration.”

Regardless of the level of Portfolio Manager’s adoption, multifamily energy specialists say the cost savings realized by firms who commit to regular and systematic energy and utility benchmarking provides a concrete benefit to apartment operators. “These efforts are starting to come together and I think dome of the early adopters are beginning to see real returns instead of just a couple of bucks," Charles says. “We also think ultimately a demonstration of energy cost savings will result in significant additional discount points for multifamily mortgages.”