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Real-estate company finds benefit from Virginia energy market changes


 

Creating a comprehensive energy strategy can be tough for any enterprise, but it's especially difficult for one spread across several states. Michael Brown, Assistant Vice President and Director of Operations at Bernstein Management Corporation knows this all too well.

With more than 80 properties in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, Bernstein Management must plan different energy procurement strategies depending on the options available under regional regulations for each property.

"Part of our strategy for keeping energy expenses low is to take advantage of a competitive procurement process, buying energy through a retail supplier," Brown says. "But until recently, we didn't have any electricity options in Virginia because the state was effectively closed to competition."

Fortunately, the Virginia energy market shopping rules were clarified in 2019, making it possible for Bernstein Management Corporation to pursue renewable power at Virginia properties. For a company already focused on renewable energy and efficiency projects - including legacy property remodels, electric vehicle charging stations and solar panel installations - they were ready when Virginia energy choice was finally an option for them.

 

Beginning with Energy Efficiency

Bernstein Management's multi-family apartment buildings vary in age, a significant factor when it comes to managing energy demand. While some of the newer buildings were designed to meet today's energy efficiency standards, older properties required additional work to achieve the same outcome. LED Lighting retrofits and upgrades along with selective high energy efficiency HVAC equipment replacements are among the projects that have advanced this effort. On an energy cost per resident basis, older urban, multifamily buildings perform very well due to the type of construction and amount of shared resources for heating and cooling.

On top of renovations to their buildings, Bernstein Management also began participating in the Empower Maryland Act programs. The program offers incentives to the state's energy customers for creating efficiencies that decrease natural gas and electricity consumption.

 

solar panels

 

Investing in Solar

While advancing energy efficiency at their Maryland properties, the company soon began focusing on the Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) market in Washington, D.C. On-site solar generation was an attractive investment, so from 2017 to 2019, Bernstein Management installed behind-the-meter solar arrays at four of its D.C. properties, totaling more than 380 kilowatts in all.

At baseline, the solar arrays generated enough power to make a sizeable dent in monthly bills. But the results go beyond supply savings. The arrays also reduce electricity consumption during peak periods on the grid, the hot summer days that utility providers reference to assign capacity and transmission costs. Because their power load is subsidized by off-the-grid solar energy, Bernstein Management qualified for significantly lower capacity and transmission fees the year following the solar installations.

"We have analytic tools associated with our equipment that show how much solar generation we're self-consuming at the facility and then how much is being exported to the grid," Brown explains. "During some periods of full sun and low demand for electric cooling, we actually make more solar power than the building consumes."

Opening Energy Market in Virginia

Bernstein Management has been procuring retail power and gas from Direct Energy Business for their Maryland and Washington D.C. properties since 2010; but state regulations prevented them from doing the same in Virginia.

Virginia has been on the road toward open energy markets for two decades, a history characterized by active opposition from the state's two major utilities. Bernstein Management was quick to take the plunge in Virginia as they had already realized the budget benefits of energy choice at their other properties.

"For approximately 15 years, we have shopped the competitive marketplace for the best rates on our gas and electric supply," Brown says. "When our representative from Direct Energy Business contacted me in the spring of 2019 about a competitive option for 100 percent renewable in Virginia, we were quite excited to have this opportunity."

With the new opportunity in Virginia, Bernstein Management Corporation purchased renewable power at a fixed rate, achieving budget certainty and boosting progress toward sustainability goals.

"Over the years, we've seen again and again that competitive suppliers can beat the utility default rate," Brown says. "To have that come with a 100 percent renewable purchase is really the best of both worlds."

By solving for both energy efficiency and renewable supply, Bernstein Management has succeeded in executing an energy strategy that benefits the company and their tenants. Their multipronged demand management approach, on-site solar investment and ability to pivot as market regulations change are all factors making Bernstein Management Corporation an Energy All-Star.

 

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