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Since September, the New York City Department of Buildings has been strictly enforcing the New York State Energy Code for all commercial buildings. The existence of such a code, and the fact that it is generally updated every 3 to 5 years, is surprising news to many property owners and managers. What is even more unexpected is that notices of objection are being issued to violators with a mandate to resolve the cited issue(s) in a timely manner.

This renewed focus on energy efficiency in New York City’s soaring skyscrapers can be attributed to several factors. Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that buildings account for 80 percent of New York City’s carbon emissions, a percentage that is substantially higher than that of other cities. In comparison to non-green commercial properties, green buildings consume 26 percent less energy and produce 33 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

While the most immediate effect of New York City’s energy code enforcement may be citations, of even greater impact is pending legislation that would rewrite commercial lighting standards. If passed as expected, the new lighting law would take effect in 2013 and require upgrades in all buildings in the 50,000-square-foot-or-more category by 2022. On the surface, the plan may be intimidating to some. In reality, it actually empowers owners to choose lighting retrofits that forgo costly energy efficient investments. New York City has released almost $16 million of stimulus funding to help property owners in this credit-constrained economy, so government-sponsored financing is available.

More and more building owners are considering and implementing intelligent lighting systems. These state-of-the-art systems not only reduce costs and demonstrate an overall commitment to being environmentally friendly, this smart technology also contributes to enhanced building values, higher tenant retention rates and reduced operating expenditures. Energy management strategies in these systems include daylight harvesting, which adjusts interior light levels based on available daylight; occupancy controls to turn lights on and off automatically; and variable load shedding, which limits power demand peaks and reduces overall utility costs.

Unlike build-outs, smart lighting retrofits can be achieved quickly and seamlessly. In addition to reducing lighting use and energy costs at a faster rate than other environmental measures, intelligent lighting systems average a relatively short payback-on-investment period of 2 to 5 years. Once driven by savings alone, property owners are now motivated more than ever to convert to a programmable intelligent lighting system. In addition to financing the conversion with federal stimulus funding, various utility rebate programs may also be available.

Energy Codes, such as the one now being enforced in New York City, are not new or innovative. As a matter of fact, many date back to the energy crisis of the early 1970s. To complement the improvements in tenancy and overall energy consumption, these conservation initiatives have a far-reaching impact on overall quality of life for all city dwellers, those employed in Manhattan and visitors. From the newest, glossy towers to the most coveted historic landmarks, the lighting of New York City’s skyline is now being held to a new standard.

— Tony Marano is president and CEO of Teaneck, N.J.-based Encelium Technologies.

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