Energy benchmarking is a continuous process of analyzing the current performance of a building and comparing it to a standard baseline to determine where energy and water efficiency improvements are necessary. Benchmarking a large building stock could achieve considerable energy savings but would require time, effort, and capital. For example, State-owned properties cover over 29 million square feet of Nevada’s built environment using more than 329 million kWh annually.

When considering a benchmarking program in Nevada, evaluating how effective it will be in reaching the goal of zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 is crucial. Implementation of a statewide program to include public and privately-owned buildings could achieve a significant emissions reduction.

Data collection to identify the current status of a building or other structure with regards to energy and water consumption will inherently provide a baseline for improved standards, ultimately creating a path for buildings to achieve required GHG-reduction goals. 

Utilizing a standard of measurement is necessary when considering benchmarking policies. Platforms such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ENERGY STAR portfolio manager provide a way to track water and energy consumption within the built environment and then compare that performance to similar buildings in similar climate zones. 


Other cities, counties, and states that have adopted mandatory energy benchmarking policies are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. U.S. City, County and State Policies for Existing Buildings

Figure 1. Benchmarking Policies in Cities and States

Redrawn from Institute for Market Transformation

Chicago’s benchmarking program has shown a 10% drop in energy use per square foot from 2015 to 2018. According to the city’s 2018 benchmarking report, this equates to taking almost 400,000 cars off the road.

Reno passed the Energy and Water Efficiency Program, also known as the benchmarking ordinance, to encourage large commercial and multifamily buildings to participate in the community’s goal of emissions reductions. Programs like this provide a way for building owners to measure current energy and water use and implement cost-effective efficiency measures that reduce GHG emissions.

Significantly more information would be needed about individual buildings in order to truly establish precisely what type of emissions reduction could be achieved and on what time frame. Similarly, the diverse uses and business models behind Nevada’s building stock (e.g., gaming, logistics, manufacturing, commercial, multifamily, leased vs. owned) makes this recommendation’s success dependent on robust consultation with stakeholders. However, it is clear that this type of program would result in reduced GHG emissions. 

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Research of similar programs suggests that an efficient way to implement a benchmarking program is to begin with State-owned buildings, buildings owned by political subdivisions, and commercial, institutional, and educational buildings over a certain square footage.

Improved understanding of benchmarking’s impact in the multifamily development sector is required, as costs for compliance could be incurred by renters. However, these could be offset by savings in energy costs. More research and discussion are necessary to understand the tradeoffs.

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The consideration and implementation of a benchmarking program would require coordination among the Governor’s Office of Energy (GOE), State Public Works Division (SPWD), Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUCN), as well as other state agencies and local governments in consultation with the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP).

Benchmarking policies have been adopted in at least six states with varying degrees of specificity, but all require at least one full-time equivalent (FTE) staff member to manage the programs.

In Colorado, Governor Polis signed Executive Order D 2019 016 directing state agencies and departments to participate in local benchmarking ordinances providing data on State-owned buildings within those jurisdictions.

Oregon has a mandated State Energy Efficiency Design Program (SEED), which requires all State facilities constructed on or after a certain date exceed the energy conservation provisions of the Oregon State Building Code by at least 20%.

California has also established a benchmarking program that allows the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to authorize electrical or gas corporations to provide incentives and assistance for measures to conform a building to California Energy Commission’s (CEC) energy-efficiency standards for existing buildings. 

It is unclear what the fiscal impacts are for states that implement benchmarking policies, as these can vary based on the policies adopted. 

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Under NRS 331,070, SPWD’s Buildings & Grounds Section manages and has jurisdiction over approximately 9 million square feet of the State’s buildings. Other state agencies that own buildings include Department of Corrections, Department of Transportation, Nevada System of Higher Education, Department of Military, Department of Health & Human Services, the Legislature, Department of Public Safety, State Parks, Department of Wildlife, and Department of Agriculture.

The SPWD Code and Compliance Section’s building official is the authority having jurisdiction over all buildings and structures on property of the state or held in trust for any division of state government (NRS 341.100 (9)). This authority extends to code adoption, including the adoption of energy codes (NRS 341.091).

A program for commercial and multifamily buildings might involve the GOE, the PUCN, the Treasury Department if considering a tax credit, and the Water Resources Division for water use. Each agency may have authority to deal with some part of the program.

A number of states and the City of Reno have adopted programs for “benchmarking” (or comparing) the energy and water use of buildings using the U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool. These programs incorporate one or more of the following elements:

  1. Applicable buildings must track and report their annual energy use using the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool.
  2. Benchmarking data will be publicly disclosed for applicable buildings.
  3. Utilities must provide applicable buildings with aggregated whole-building energy-use data in a format compatible with the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool.
  4. Utilities must be able to provide this data and building owners must report annual energy usage.
  5. State agencies must lease space in buildings that have earned ENERGY STAR certification, where possible.
  6. Applicable buildings must reduce energy use (or, in some states, “energy use intensity”) by a certain percentage (e.g., 20%) by a certain date (e.g., 2030).
  7. Applicable building owners must seek to obtain ENERGY STAR certification for all eligible facilities.
  8. Applicable commercial buildings must disclose energy performance metrics to a prospective buyer, lessee, or lender.
  9. Applicable buildings must disclose their 1–100 ENERGY STAR score to a purchaser or prospective purchaser of the facility before the time of sale.
  10. New construction buildings of more than 10,000 square feet must meet state energy code targets using the ENERGY STAR Target Finder tool or equivalent methodology (SPWD adopted codes in NAC 341.045, and 341.301 – 341.346, already exist and are applicable to all construction/buildings on state property).
  11. Applicable buildings must comply with performance goals or follow compliance options.
  12. An income tax credit is available to encourage private-sector design and construction of energy-efficient, sustainable buildings. To qualify, commercial applicants must demonstrate that the building is 60% more efficient than an average building of the same type using the ENERGY STAR Target Finder tool; residential applicants must demonstrate that ENERGY STAR Homes certification has been earned.

Other programs apply to commercial and multifamily buildings of a given size (e.g., larger than 25,000 or 50,000 square feet). Usually, the legislature passes a statute specifically drafted to establish the program. In some cases, states began with a program for state-owned, -leased, or -managed buildings and later adopted a program for commercial and multifamily buildings.

Some programs establish mandatory requirements (e.g., for state-owned buildings or buildings larger than 50,000 square feet); others are voluntary (e.g., New Mexico’s income tax credit for efficient, sustainable buildings).

For buildings owned by the State of Nevada, an executive order could set goals for energy and water efficiency and direct state agencies to benchmark and track building energy and water use and make improvements to achieve efficiency goals. The GOE has authority to establish a program to track energy (but not water) use in buildings owned or occupied by the State (NRS 701.218). The GOE has already completed one such program (State Buildings: Monitoring Natural Gas and Electricity Use). Under existing regulations, capital improvement projects for state buildings larger than 20,000 square feet must meet ENERGY STAR standards for energy and water efficiency (NAC 341.346).

For commercial and multifamily buildings in Nevada, a benchmarking program might involve several state agencies, each of which may have authority for part of the program. For example:

  • GOE: conservation of energy in buildings, promote incentives for energy conservation
  • PUCN: require utilities to provide aggregated, whole-building energy use data or automated benchmarking data through ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager
  • Nevada Division of Water Resources and various water authorities (e.g., the Las Vegas Valley Water District, Truckee Meadows Water Authority): aggregated, whole-building water use data or automated benchmarking data through ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, water-use efficiency standards, incentives, rebates
  • Department of Taxation: tax credits

For example, the GOE director has authority to:

  • Adopt regulations for the conservation of energy in buildings (NRS 701.220(1));
  • Adopt any regulations the director determines necessary to carry out the duties of the Office of Energy (NRS 701.170(4));
  • Recommend to state agencies, local governments, and appropriate private persons and entities, standards for conservation of energy (NRS 701.200(1));
  • Encourage the maximum utilization of existing sources of energy in the state (NRS 701.180(3));
  • Prepare a comprehensive state energy plan that provides for promotion of, among other things:
    • Energy-use reduction, conservation, and efficiency (NRS 701.190(1));
    • Creation of incentives for energy-use reduction, conservation, and efficiency (NRS 701.190(2)(c)); and
    • Any other matter relevant to energy use, conservation, and efficiency.

This policy includes elements that may fall within the authority of several agencies. The most-efficient way to establish such a program may be through new, special purpose legislation (like that adopted in a number of states), rather through a patchwork of existing legal authority involving multiple agencies. EPA’s Benchmarking Programs and Policies Leveraging ENERGY STAR lists a number of state programs (including New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and the State of Washington) that could serve as models for Nevada legislation or executive orders. The Reno Energy and Water Efficiency Program (Reno Administrative Code Chapter 14.30) could also serve as a model.

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