EPA Seeks Building Owners’ Input on Whole-Building Energy Data

A new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) campaign seeks to assist building owners in obtaining data from utilities on energy used by tenants in leased spaces. Stakeholders are encouraged to complete EPA’s brief Whole-Building Energy Data survey by Friday, June 7.

Access to Whole-Building Data is Critical

  • A challenge shared by owners and managers across the CRE industry is obtaining leased space energy data particularly where tenants operate under “triple-net” (NNN) leases and pay their electricity, gas, and other power bills directly to utilities.
  • Difficulties accessing whole-building energy data are acute in multifamily, offices, retail, logistics, life sciences, and any building type that leases spaces to numerous tenants.
  • Nonetheless, owners are expected to capture data on tenants’ energy use as a simple matter of proper building management, and for myriad policy and regulatory reasons such as:
  • Reports to investors and lenders, including disclosures to the US-SEC and state agencies;
  • Attaining voluntary certifications such as EPA’s ENERGY STAR and NextGen building “labels”; and
  • Qualifying for the 179D tax deduction for building retrofits enacted by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022. [Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 20, 2023 and  IRA fact sheet, July 31, 2023]

Roundtable Advocacy

  • The Roundtable supported a Jan. 18 open letter from leaders of the EPA, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Department of Energy (DOE) to utilities and their regulatory commissions about the national importance of obtaining tenant-level consumption data.
  • The Roundtable also submitted comments to EPA on Jan. 20 that emphasized how utilities should be eligible for EPA grants to develop technologies that provide owners of multi-tenant assets with whole-building energy data.

EPA’s Campaign

  • EPA has posted online tools including a “Multitenant Buildings and Federal Incentives” fact sheet. This resource explains the importance of whole-building data to building owners (with a focus on federal funding opportunities requiring this data), as well as solutions available to utilities to provide the data.
  • More than 90% of utilities currently do not provide whole-building energy use data. (See EPA’s data access map.) The EPA campaign aims to:
  • Gather input from building owners and others on where they need this data most and why, via the survey.
  • Create resources that support building owners in engaging utilities nationwide, including a summary of the survey’s input.
  • Organize meetings between utilities and building owners in priority locations to facilitate discussion.
  • EPA will support utilities that are interested in providing the data in line with industry best practices.

EPA’s campaign will be among the topics discussed during The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) Meeting on June 21 in Washington, D.C., held in conjunction with the RER’s all-member Annual Meeting on June 20.

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Biden Administration Determines Federally-Financed Housing Construction Must Comply with Costly “Model Energy Codes”

The Biden administration recently issued a “final determination” that all new single- and multifamily homes financed with federal mortgages must be built to stringent “model energy codes.” The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates this federal mandate on residential construction will add at least $7,229 to the cost of building a new single-family home, effectively establishing a disincentive to increase the supply of affordable housing—a federal policy strongly opposed by The Roundtable. (Bloomberg, April 25 and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), April 26)

Federal Compliance

  • The Roundtable believes this new federal regulation will reduce the supply of housing, increase home prices and rents, and make it more difficult for buyers to assemble a down payment.

  • The “final determination” from HUD and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is, in effect, a new federal-level building energy code that could impact approximately 150,000 units per year.
  • Although the energy code update technically takes effect May 28, the dates for “compliance” are May 2025 for multifamily, Nov. 2025 for single-family homes, and May 2026 for homes in “persistent poverty rural areas.” (NAHB, April 26)
  • This action stands in stark contrast to a set of policy recommendations submitted this week by The Roundtable and a broad real estate coalition aimed at broadening housing supply and lowering costs. (Coalition letter to House policymakers, April 29 and Affordable Housing story, above)
  • Additionally, Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer testified on April 30 before a House Oversight Subcommittee on the need to “create more effective incentives and programs to stimulate the production of affordable housing.” (see Policy Landscape story, above)

Varying Energy Standards

  • The HUD-USDA notice may also conflict directly with local energy codes in jurisdictions throughout the country.
  • The federal action will require all HUD- and USDA-financed new single-family construction housing to be built to the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). All HUD-financed multifamily housing must be built to 2021 IECC or ASHRAE 90.1-2019.

Zero Emissions Buildings (ZEB)

Apartment building with carbon neutral design
  • As Bloomberg reported, the Biden administration also issued this latest update as part of a larger effort to modernize building codes to reach its climate goals. Earlier this year, the Biden administration issued a draft of a federal definition for a Zero Emissions Buildings (ZEB). (Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 5)
  • RER and Nareit submitted comments on Feb. 2 to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the draft ZEB definition, which would impose no federal mandates. (Joint comments’ cover letter and addendum | Roundtable ZEB Fact Sheet, Jan. 18 | Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 5)

The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) will discuss the repercussions of the HUD-USDA rule during its next meeting on June 21 in Washington, DC.

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IRS Regulations Clarify Rules for Transferring Energy Tax Credits

IRS building in Washington, DC

On Thursday, the IRS issued a package of final regulations on the transferability of tax credits for rooftop solar and other clean energy investments under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). (Final regulations and IRS news release, April 25)

Transferability

  • The final rules relate to the transferability of qualifying credits to third-party credit purchasers in the context of partnerships and pass-throughs, as well as potential credit recapture events and penalties for excessive credit transfers. (PoliticoPro, April 25 and Tax Notes, April 26)
  • The ability to transfer clean energy credits allows REITs to participate in the new IRA tax incentive regime. The final regulations address several concerns raised by The Roundtable in its July 2023 comment letter, particularly in the context of REIT investments. For example, the regulations clarify that as-yet-untransferred credits are disregarded for purposes of the REIT 75% asset test.
  • Unfortunately, the final regulations did not reverse the Biden administration’s prior guidance that generally limits the ability of mixed real estate partnerships (taxable and tax-exempt partners) to maximize their credit benefits through a combination of credit transfers and direct payments.  Mixed partnerships can still claim the new tax credits, but may lose some of the financial value due to the specific tax attributes of the individual partners. 
  • Treasury indicated additional guidance is likely to help taxpayers meet the cumbersome credit registration requirements and ensure taxpayers can qualify for the underlying incentives. The IRS also updated its FAQs on tax credit transfers on April 25.  

The Roundtable’s Energy Credit Transferability/Direct Pay Working Group is analyzing the regulations and assessing their impact on CRE.

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Federal Initiatives on Buildings, Climate Gaining Momentum Ahead of 2024 Elections

The White House

The Biden-Harris administration is accelerating actions at the intersection of climate and real estate policy in the lead-up to November’s elections to implement its signature clean energy legislation passed during its first years in office. RER’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) remains engaged with policymakers on a variety of initiatives coalescing in 2024 that include the following:

Climate-Related Financial Risk

  • The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to issue a final rule this spring for registered companies to disclose financial risks from climate change.(RER fact sheet and Roundtable Weekly, March 10, 2023).
  • Scope 3 “indirect” emissions from sources in a company’s supply chain are controversial elements of the anticipated SEC rule. RER’s 2022 comments urged the Commission to drop its “back door mandate” for Scope 3 disclosures. (Roundtable Weekly, June 10, 2022)
  • Litigation against the SEC’s imminent rule is widely expected. A recent lawsuit filed by industry groups against a California disclosure package passed last summer (modeled after the SEC’s proposal) signals similar claims that the federal government might face in court. (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 30 and RER fact sheet)

Voluntary Frameworks

EPA's NextGen Building Label
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will accept applications for its NextGen building label starting in September. (EPA slides to SPAC, Jan 24) ENERGY STAR assets will be NextGen-eligible if they also meet an emissions “target” and source 30 percent of energy use to renewable power. (RER fact sheet)
  • NextGen certification may serve as an “intermediate step” for buildings that strive for a voluntary Zero Emissions Building (“ZEB”) definition coming from the U.S. Energy Department. Recent comments from RER and Nareit maintain that the federal ZEB definition can lend consistency to the confusing state-local regulatory patchwork of building performance standards. (Roundtable Weekly, Feb 2.)
  • EPA is acting on requests to update Portfolio Manager, CRE’s standard tool to measure metrics for building efficiency and emissions. Portfolio Manager upgrades announced at last month’s SPAC meeting will help real estate companies strive for NextGen or ZEB status. (Coalition letter, Sept. 14, 2023)
  • This spring, the influential GHG Protocol—an international framework heavily relied upon by the SEC, EPA, DOE, and institutional investors—will undertake its first revisions since 2015 to its guidance for companies to account for emissions from electricity use. RER will participate in the upcoming Scope 2 guidance public comment process.

Tax Incentives

Ben Myers, left, and Tony Malkin, right -- SPAC leadership
Roundtable Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee Chair Tony Malkin, right, and
Vice Chair Ben Myers
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued dozens of proposed rules and notices to implement clean energy tax incentives available to real estate and other sectors since Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in 2022. (RER fact sheet)
  • The IRS is expected to release final rules before November on topics such as the ability of REITs to transfer certain tax credits, proposed rules on non-urban census tracts eligible for EV charging station credits, and the 179D deduction for building retrofits.
  • RER has submitted comments on these and other topics in response to initial IRS notices and will continue to provide feedback as opportunities arise. (RER letters Oct. 30 and July 28, 2023;  Nov. 4 and Dec. 2, 2022)

The Roundtable’s SPAC—led by Chair Tony Malkin (Chairman, President, and CEO, Empire State Realty Trust) and Vice Chair Ben Myers (Senior Vice President of Sustainability, BXP)—will press forward with RER’s climate and energy priorities for the remainder of the current administration and into the next.

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Biden Administration Requests Comments on Draft Definition for “Zero Emissions Buildings”

The Biden administration on Wednesday issued a draft definition for the term “Zero Emissions Buildings.” The voluntary guideline would apply to non-federal, existing buildings and new construction. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) requested comments by Feb. 5 from industry and other stakeholders about Part 1 of the draft “ZEB” language, which is focused on “zero operating emissions.” (DOE announcement | National Definition Draft Criteria | Comments Form)

Draft Criteria

  • An eventual, final ZEB definition would be the first federal government guideline providing voluntary criteria for buildings that aspire to zero emissions status. DOE’s proposed draft defines a zero emissions building through three (3) criteria:
    1. Highly energy efficient
    2. Free of on-site emissions from energy use, and
    3. Powered solely from clean energy
  • DOE will hold two public listening sessions on the draft definition. Registration is capped at the first 100 attendees:
    1. Thursday, January 11, 2024 @ 10 a.m. ET – Register
    2. Tuesday, January 30, 2024 @ 10:30 a.m. ET – Register

National ZEB Definition

  • RER plans to submit comments about the draft proposal. A federal definition for ZEB could bring much-needed consistency to help CRE owners and investors establish long-term emissions goals for buildings. (Roundtable Weekly, Sept. 29, 2023)
  • The Roundtable and a coalition of real estate organizations sent a Sept. 14 letter to US-EPA supporting development of standard methods and metrics for buildings and tenants to quantify their emissions.
  • Federal standards, definitions, and tools “are the North Star though which local governments can inform their law-making, and this helps bring some sense and order to the otherwise conflicting patchwork of climate laws and frameworks developed by states, cities, and NGOs,” said The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) Chair Tony Malkin (Chairman, President, and CEO, Empire State Realty Trust). (Roundtable Weekly, Sept. 15)
  • Roundtable Senior VP and Counsel Duane Desiderio was quoted on Sept. 28 in the Washington Post about how CRE companies may welcome the idea of a single federal standard. “A workable, usable federal definition of zero-emission buildings can bring some desperately needed uniformity and consistency to a chaotic regulatory landscape,” Desiderio said. (Roundtable Weekly, Sept. 15)

Executive branch officials from the White House, federal agencies, and leading non-governmental organizations will discuss the national ZEB definition on Jan. 24 during sessions on sustainability issues at The Roundtable’s all-member 2024 State of the Industry Meeting.

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Roundtable Recommends Solutions to Ease Compliance with Labor Rules for IRA Tax Incentives

Workers on sustainable energy project on rooftop of building

The Real Estate Roundtable submitted comments this week encouraging the Treasury Department to provide a compliance “safe harbor” to streamline labor-related requirements necessary to seek “bonus” tax incentives for clean energy building projects under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). (Roundtable comment letter, Oct. 30)

Prevailing Wage and Apprenticeship Compliance Burdens

  • The Roundtable letter notes that the IRA’s objective to support retrofits and slash carbon emissions in the built environment will be undermined if the costs of labor compliance far exceed the incentives offered by Congress.
  • The comments explain that wage and apprenticeship compliance burdens would dis-incentivize businesses and taxpayers’ to pursue the IRA’s clean energy bonuses, thereby rendering the bonus credits program illusory in many cases.
  • The letter also emphasizes that a regulatory solution to ease the IRA’s paperwork burdens would spur more clean energy projects in buildings—and encourages Treasury/IRS to conduct its own thorough cost-benefit accounting of Prevailing Wage/Registered Apprenticeship (PW/RA) Requirements before issuing a final rule.

 Contractor Compliance Certifications Sought

rooftop heat pumps with solar panels in the foreground.
  • The “safe harbor” recommendation by The Roundtable would allow building owners/developers to rely on written certifications provided by their General Contractors (GCs), or any other subcontractors (subs), would confirm and fulfill all PW/RA labor requirements.
  • This streamlined approach would reduce the compliance burden and retain the fervor that IRA tax incentives could generate under the IRA. Real estate owners and developers are not the direct employers of electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, solar technicians, EV charging installers, or any others that construct or retrofit buildings. GCs and subs directly employ manual laborers.
  • The Roundtable also recommends regulators develop “Recordkeeping Requirements” for PW/RA compliance that reflect the reality of how laborers, mechanics, and apprentices are employed on real estate projects, who is hired by whom, and how hours worked are tracked.

Other targeted tax reforms that will help scale real estate’s transformation toward zero emissions are recommended in The Roundtable letter. These include expanding Section 48 of the Code to building electrification technologies; allowing private owner transfers to unrelated third parties under Sections 45L and 179D; and repealing a Section 179D rule that reduces a property’s basis by the amount of the claimed deduction. (Roundtable comment letter, Oct. 30)

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New Federal Rules Issued Regarding Real Estate Construction, Clean Energy Projects

Housing Construction WorkerThe Biden administration issued two new rules this week impacting real estate construction and investments in clean energy projects. 

  • Davis-Bacon: The U.S. Labor Department on Tuesday issued a final rule to overhaul Davis-Bacon standards that determine prevailing wages for workers on construction projects covered by a federal contract or financially assisted by federal grants, loans, guarantees or insurance.
    • Construction association AGC issued a statement expressing “preliminary” concerns that “this rulemaking critically missed an opportunity” to inject “more accurate data” in processes to establish prevailing wage rates in local markets across the nation.
    • Laborers and mechanics constructing transportation, energy, water, toxic site clean-ups, and other infrastructure financially supported by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) must meet the new Davis-Bacon requirements. (IIJA project map)
    • Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) projects receiving clean energy tax incentives are not required to meet Davis-Bacon rules, but they can qualify for increased credits and deductions if workers are paid prevailing wages. (RER’s IRA fact sheets) 
    Solar installation workers

  • “Bonus” Tax Credits: The Treasury Department and IRS on Thursday released final rules explaining how IRA “bonus credits” can be awarded to solar, wind, and associated storage projects in low-income communities. (The Hill, August 10)
    • Qualifying projects in census tracts eligible for new market tax credits (NMTCs) can receive a 10% solar credit boost, while those supported by low-income housing tax credits or Section 8 rental assistance can receive a 20% solar credit increase. (RER’s IRA “bonus rate” chart)
    • The “bonus” incentives – over “base” rate tax credit amounts – are competitive. Bonuses will be awarded through an application process run by the U.S. Department of Energy scheduled to open this fall.

The Roundtable submitted comments in June when the IRS proposed the “bonus credit” program. (Roundtable Weekly, June 30). It will update its summary of IRA-related agency guidance following analysis of the newly issued rule.

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Monetizing Energy Credits: Roundtable Submits Recommendations to Treasury

U.S. Capitol

The Real Estate Roundtable submitted comments today on proposed and temporary tax regulations regarding the transferability and direct payment of clean energy credits under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022. (Roundtable comments, July 28)

 IRA Incentives 

  • Congress passed the IRA last August. The law significantly increases the size of existing tax incentives for energy-saving improvements to commercial real estate. Perhaps even more importantly, the legislation contained key reforms related to the transferability and direct payment of energy tax credits.

  • The reforms have made the incentives relevant to a large and previously untapped segment of real estate owners, including REITs, pension funds, and private foundations. The incentives include:

    • Tax-exempt real estate owners that invest in solar panels and other improvements can elect to receive direct payments from the Treasury in lieu of the expanded investment tax credit.
    • Taxable real estate owners, including REITs, can sell the credits to third parties for cash. 
    • The credit amount can range from 6% to 60% of the qualifying investment, depending on factors such as the size, location, domestic content, and wages paid to equipment contractors.
  • Roundtable comments submitted last year included recommendations on the IRA’s transferability provisions. On June 14, the Treasury Department and IRS issued proposed regulations to implement the provisions, as well as temporary regulations establishing a pre-filing registration process.

  • The IRS rules adopted certain Roundtable recommendations, such as the ability to divide and sell the credits from a single project to multiple transferees. Other recommendations, which would have maximized the value of the credits in mixed real estate partnerships involving taxable and tax-exempt partners, were rejected as contrary to the statute and difficult to administer.  

Energy Credits Monetization  

U.S. Treasury Building
  • Today’s letter from Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer commends Treasury for providing greater clarity on its credit monetization mechanism and for laying out a rational process and timeline for property owners to claim and transfer credits or receive payments.

  • The Roundtable’s July 28 letter—developed by a joint working group of the Roundtable’s Tax and Sustainability Policy Advisory Committees (TPAC and SPAC)—also encourages Treasury to revisit the issue of mixed partnerships and asks for clarification that the credits are not “bad assets” for purposes of the 75% REIT asset test.

  • The credit monetization tools enacted in the IRA offer valuable new opportunities to access and raise capital for energy-saving improvements to commercial real estate. The deadline for comments to Treasury and the IRS is August 14, and final Treasury regulations are expected this year.  

The Roundtable’s Energy Credit Transferability Working Group will remain engaged with policymakers as the rules are finalized and implementation continues. 

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2023 Annual Report – Sustained Strength, Sustained Solutions

View Full Report – 2023 Annual Report – Sustained Strength, Sustained Solutions

    Roundtable, Nareit Critique Proposed International Standard for Building Emissions

    Greenhouse gas emissions

    As the buildings sector makes progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet global climate goals, The Roundtable and Nareit submitted comments today about proposed guidance that would create “unworkable and unattainable” standards. (RER-Nareit joint comments)

    Science-Based Targets

    • A number of real estate companies use science-based protocols to establish portfolio-wide emissions reductions targets. The Roundtable convened a working group of its Sustainability Policy Committee (SPAC) to review and assess SBTi’s draft guidance. Nareit conducted a similar process with its members. These efforts resulted in the organizations’ unified position.

    RER-Nareit Position

    • The Roundtable and Nareit seek a constructive dialogue with SBTi, as their letter explains. However, the real estate groups expressed concern that SBTi’s proposal would require building stakeholders to set emissions targets for sources and operations they do not control, based too heavily on estimates and speculation as opposed to actual and verifiable data.

    • Key points raised in the joint comments include:

      Nareit and Real Estate Roundtable logos
      • Building owners must have options to purchase off-site renewable energy when they set science-based targets. Real estate in dense urban areas faces major barriers to deploy solar panels and similar measures on-site, so owners should be encouraged to increase overall clean energy supplies for broader market availability.

      • There should be no categorical, across-the-board mandate to set emissions targets based on tenants’ energy use because building owners do not control operations in leased spaces. Nor do owners have general access to meter data showing how much energy a tenant uses.

      • Emissions goals should not require, in all circumstances, reporting on “embodied carbon” in materials. Manufacturers do not uniformly provide such embodied emissions data for the concrete, steel, and other products they produce—so building stakeholders should not be required to guess this information in their climate reports.

      • Full-blown building electrification is not practicable, feasible, or even desirable for occupants’ safety and comfort in all cases. SBTi should abandon its proposed ban on all new fossil fuel building installations starting in 2025.    

    Why It Matters

    SBTi logo
    • There is no mandate in the U.S. at the federal level for real estate companies to set science-based emissions targets. However, anticipated rules from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are expected to require registered companies to report to investors on material climate-related financial risks. Those disclosures could include corporate efforts to reduce emissions following SBTi’s and similar standards. (Roundtable Weekly, March 17March 6 and June 10, 2022).
       
    • In addition, key aspects of SBTi’s proposal counter voluntary efforts underway at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that recognize advances in low-carbon buildings and portfolios. (Roundtable WeeklyMarch 3 and March 4, 2022)

    • Moreover, varying and often conflicting climate mandates on buildings are proliferating at the local level. (Roundtable Weekly, Dec. 9, 2022). SBTi’s proposed approach should not gain traction in regulatory building performance standards imposed by cities and states. 

    A final version of SBTi’s buildings sector guidance is expected this fall. The Roundtable will continue to track the issue, coordinate with Nareit and other allied groups, and educate policy makers as this matter develops. 

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