The Upside to a Failing (Energy Efficiency) Grade

By Ariel Konieczko

Every Beacon student has received a ‘D’ on a test at least once. As unpleasant as the news might be, this near-failing grade doesn’t equate to an algebra pop quiz or physics exam score. Instead, it’s the grade assigned to Beacon’s building by the New York City’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager. The program, mandated by local laws and administered by the City’s Department of Buildings, is a plan of action designed to share and compare the energy efficiency among eligible buildings. Beacon’s ‘D’ is one of the lowest grades; the only grade lower, is an ‘F,’ given to buildings that don’t comply with the program. 

However, unlike a Spanish test gone wrong, Beacon’s score might have benefits that should counter any concern.  

The sign bearing Beacon’s test grade is one of the thousands of signs posted on New York City buildings of 25,000 square feet or larger. The Energy Star website explains the calculations by stating, “Based on the information you enter about your building, such as its size, location, number of occupants, number of PCs, etc., the score’s algorithm estimates how much energy the building would use if it were the best performing, the worst performing, and every level in between.” 

Once a number is assigned, building owners and managers can compare their placement with other large buildings across New York’s five boroughs. The New York City average is a 54 out of 100 – Beacon currently has a score of 53, correlating to its D. 

Local Law 95 of 2019 implies that a ‘D’ is any score under 55, a ‘C’ is any score greater than 55 but under 70, and a ‘B’ over 70 but under 85. An ‘A’ is a score of at least 85 and is the most difficult to achieve. Basic information around the scores can be found online, including specifics about Beacon’s building, coded 1-01072-0015 (Borough, Block, and Lot – for reader reference). Beacon’s report is submitted annually by the Division of School Facilities Office of Sustainability (NYC DSF) but Dimitri Stefanopoulos, the Beacon High School Custodian Engineer, was able to provide valuable and personal insights into this topic.

That “D” on Beacon’s front door isn’t talking about a grade…

Stefanopoulos explained that Beacon is taking multiple impressive steps to keep improving its score. Each of the steps was created in response to a section of the Energy Star report Beacon initially struggled to excel in following. For example, Stefanopoulos said, “With this report, all lights, motors, equipment were surveyed and funding will be provided in the future to make upgrades to the building.”

According to Stefanopoulos, Beacon students can also help improve their respective scores. “The easiest and fastest way to save energy is to close lights when you leave the room and have computers on power saver after 30 minutes.” Students and staff should now know that the next time they see a light on in an unattended room, it doesn’t have to keep flaring. 

Beacon is committed to helping the environment while thoughtfully looking out for the nearby community. Stefanopoulos explained, “In the summer, during peak demand season, when called upon we shut down fans and AC for 4-6 hours at a time to conserve power and save the grid, preventing blackouts.” 

Although Beacon students and staff might not be aware, behind-the-scenes work is happening throughout all seasons, every day of the week. Stefanopoulos went into great detail on the workings of the way our school functions saying, “Schedule adjustments are made to our lighting and machinery by shutting equipment or lights early on weekends and at nights when no one is around.” It is no wonder that during vacations the school shuts down early, no matter the length of the holiday. 

Although turning off lights and shutting down early is creating impact, Beacon has taken multiple major steps to boost its Energy Star score. Stefanopoulos shared that last year all the gym light fixtures were replaced with LED installations because the previous fixtures were inefficient compact fluorescent lamps. 

Along with the work done throughout the 2020-2021 school year, Stefanopoulos explained that last October, Beacon participated in a retro-commissioning energy audit. Results found that Beacon has numerous quantities of large machinery, motors, and pumps that consume a substantial amount of energy. Based on the assessed needs of the building, funding will be distributed and proper updates will have to be made. In a final thought, Stefanopoulos expressed that “We maintain our equipment, motors, fans, filters et cetera on a monthly basis to conserve power, extend the life expectancy of the equipment, and save energy by making adjustments.” 

Buildings often receive fines if they fail to post their score for the public to view. According to Stefanopoulos, “The Department of Education (DOE) would pick up the cost with that fine.” These DOE-covered fines don’t hurt the Beacon community, they help. When a building receives a low score, it is inspected to find the root of the problem, and financed so repairs can be made. 

Contrary to first impressions, Stefanopoulos corrected negative attitudes towards Beacon’s failing grade by explaining, “It works for us to have a low score at first to obtain funding which can help us make repairs.” A DOE school wins when they receive funding and now, Beacon will be able to keep boosting its score and then maintain it. 

While Beacon students themselves are ultimately limited when it comes to taking extreme measures to improve their building, positive recognition towards the hard work being done is sure to keep advancements, both in technology and in habit.