CMP says regulators must change the rules for it to let large property owners access their tenants’ electricity data, but are ‘thrilled’ with Portland’s plan. Others say the company isn’t acting like it.

State utility regulators may have to intervene before large commercial property owners in Maine’s largest city can be required to collect and report annual energy usage to the city.

Portland enacted the state’s first mandatory energy benchmarking ordinance in November 2016, after South Portland rejected a similar proposal out of privacy concerns. Portland officials hope that the data collected will allow them to track trends in energy usage and evaluate the effectiveness of energy-efficiency improvements so they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to confront climate change.

Commercial property owners in Portland were supposed to begin reporting their annual electricity and water usage to the city on Dec. 7.

But Central Maine Power said Tuesday that current utility rules prevent landlords from accessing the energy usage of their tenants without their written permission. Before CMP can provide that information in a user-friendly format, the Maine Public Utilities Commission would have to issue a ruling.

“It’s a privacy issue for us,” CMP spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett said. “We can’t provide that information unless there’s a commission decision that allows us to do that.”

She said CMP by law cannot disclose details of individual accounts, and the law also prohibits landlords from accessing the accounts of individual tenants.

It’s unclear, however, who needs to take that step. Hartnett said the city would have to request that ruling, but city officials weren’t so sure.

“Once we’ve refined what we think is the best approach for aggregating whole building data, we will go to the PUC if that is required,” said Troy Moon, Portland’s sustainability coordinator. “If CMP thinks they need PUC authorization to move forward with any level of aggregation, I will defer to them and we will support the effort.”

The lack of progress on the 2-year-old ordinance is a source of frustration for Jon Hinck, the former city councilor who brought forward the requirement. Hinck said the city should be more assertive with CMP, which he described as being “completely flummoxed or cynically uncooperative” with Portland’s request, even though it touts its support for energy efficiency. He said improving energy efficiency is the first step in addressing climate change.

“In 2016, Troy Moon told the (sustainability) committee here that he was working with CMP on that (online platform) and they were making progress. Now two years later we see precious little progress,” Hinck said. “The city of Portland needs to say plainly to CMP that the city is an important government entity and a significant customer and that CMP needs to get its act together on energy efficiency.”

On Nov. 19, the City Council voted unanimously to delay its benchmarking requirement until these issues were worked out. The council set a May 1 deadline for the city to report its own energy usage at municipal properties, but private property owners will not have to begin reporting until one year after the information becomes available in an easy-to-use format.

The ordinance applies to commercial buildings larger than 20,000 square feet of floor space, municipal buildings larger than 5,000 square feet and apartment buildings with more than 50 units. The data would be used to help reduce greenhouse emissions by measuring and tracking trends in energy use and measuring the effectiveness of efficiency upgrades.

City staff originally estimated that 225 commercial, 40 or so municipal and 19 large apartment buildings would have to report their energy usage. That figure has grown to roughly 800 buildings citywide, according to a staff memo to councilors.

At least 20 cities around the country – including San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Boston – have some sort of benchmarking requirement.

Although city officials are not certain that a PUC ruling is necessary, Hartnett said that is what holding up progress. She said CMP is eager to work with the city.

“We’re thrilled the city of Portland is moving in this direction,” Hartnett said. “We’re glad to work with them on this. It’s exactly the direction that energy policy is going.”

During the Nov. 19 meeting, councilors largely focused on the lack of an online platform to provide energy information in a usable format as the reason for the delay, rather than needing a PUC ruling to allow commercial landlords to get aggregated energy data from their buildings, without compromising their tenants’ privacy.

Over the summer, city staff has been working with CMP and affected property owners to get access to this information. While CMP has provided some raw data, officials say it was not in a format that was easily input into a special platform created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, called Portfolio Manager, which is used by other U.S. communities with similar ordinances to track usage and greenhouse emissions.

“It turned into a spreadsheet nightmare,” said City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who leads the council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, which is overseeing the program. “We want this to go into effect just as much as anybody.”

Mayor Ethan Strimling tried unsuccessfully to set another firm deadline to keep the project on the front burner – for both the council and public. His motion to require reporting by Dec. 7, 2019, was shot down 8-1.

“I understand there’s a lot of complications here and that CMP has been a roadblock (and) they’re trying to get us through there,” Strimling said. “We don’t have any sort of deadline to make it clear that we at least want to try to make this happen.”

Thibodeau said several commercial property owners have already put time and effort into trying to track down their energy information so it could be reported to the city. He wanted to prevent that from happening again.

“There were folks actually trying to find this information for their building and they couldn’t get it,” Thibodeau said. “Having an outside date without any additional information from CMP, they are essentially on a wild goose chase.”

City Councilor Belinda Ray, who serves on the committee, said she expects CMP to be able to provide the information within the next year.

“I think there was a misunderstanding in what we were asking to have provided,” Ray said. “They now clearly understand what it is that we need and I think they are ready and willing and working with partners to make that happen, so I don’t think we will go another year. I think it will be available before then.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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