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'Green' group wants businesses to disclose energy use to get tax breaks

An environmental group wants businesses that receive tax

An environmental group wants businesses that receive tax breaks to publicly disclose how much energy they use. Credit: Chuck Fadely

A local environmental group wants businesses that receive tax breaks to publicly disclose how much energy they use, according to a proposal given to industrial development agencies.

The Long Island chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council is seeking an IDA requirement that building owners report usage of electricity, natural gas and other energy sources for each year they receive tax reductions.

Council leaders said the information, known as energy benchmarking, should be made public to promote competition among businesses for energy efficiency. Nationally, the council is best known for conferring LEED certification on energy-efficient buildings.

“Many building owners don’t know how much energy they are consuming. … A great way to start is to report your usage and see how you compare with other building owners,” said Sammy Chu, chairman of the building council's Long Island chapter and a vice chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission.

“We think it is very reasonable to ask building owners to make this information available on an annual basis while they are receiving a public benefit from the IDA" in the form of tax breaks, he said.

Among the Island’s eight IDAs, the two county agencies have been briefed by the building council, and both have requested more information, their leaders said.

The proposal comes as IDAs across the state face increased scrutiny from Albany. Bills before the State Legislature would require that construction projects receiving tax breaks pay prevailing wages to workers on the projects, and require IDAs to be more transparent by livestreaming board meetings. 

Last month, some Nassau IDA board directors expressed concern about publicizing companies’ energy use.

“This can be a trade secret for some businesses,” Timothy Williams, a director and banker, said after Chu spoke at the agency’s January meeting. “If I’m a business, I’m not sure I want my competition to know how much energy I use.”  

Chu responded that seeing how they're doing compared to other businesses can be "an important driver” to convince building owners to install energy-saving equipment and make other conservation efforts.  Chu is also CEO of Edgewise Energy, a Plainview business that helps building owners assess energy needs and install energy-efficient equipment. 

Chu said energy benchmarking has been required of many buildings in New York City for more than 10 years. On Long Island, 25 governments have committed to annual reports for most of their facilities — including Suffolk County, Hempstead Town, Long Beach and Glen Cove — through the state Clean Energy Communities Program.

The program’s local coordinator, Sarah Oral of Cameron Engineering & Associates in Woodbury, said the cost of energy benchmarking is minimal to businesses because all that’s required is filling out an online form from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency once a year.

Kelly Morris, deputy executive director of the Suffolk IDA, said the agency “needs more information before we can bring this proposal to our board.”

The Association for a Better Long Island, which represents developers, wants more information as well. “This proposal would create a significant burden on businesses already struggling in our high-tax and high-cost region," said association executive director Kyle Strober. "Additional mandates on building owners/developers without genuine incentives will not help spur economic development, which is the mission of the IDA.” 

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