Nine major U.S. cities already have energy benchmarking laws on their books, and now the first county in the country has joined their ranks. On April 22, Maryland's Montgomery County a suburban county bordering Washington, D.C. unanimously passed a package of nine energy bills that includes energy benchmarking legislation that will now require owners of large, nonresidential buildings to track and report their properties' energy use. The benchmarking legislation will be enacted in three phases. County-owned nonresidential buildings must being tracking and reporting their energy by June 1, 2015, while privately owned, nonresidential buildings above 250,000 square feet must do so by Dec. 1, 2016. Owners of private, nonresidential buildings ranging in size from 50,000 square feet to 250,000 square feet must benchmark their energy use by Dec. 1, 2017. For all three property types, the energy benchmarking data must be verified by a licensed professional before the initial filing, and must also be reviewed every three years thereafter.

The legislation package was introduced by Mountgomery County council member Roger Berliner and addresses a number of environmental concerns. A bill addressing county street lights requires the Department of Transportation to switch to LED lights (or the best technology available) after the department's current street lighting contract expires next year, while another bill requires the county to increase its use of renewable energy resources from the current level of 30 percent to 50 percent of its energy purchased in 2015 and have renewables account for 100 percent of purchased power by 2016. Other bills that were passed in the package address expedited permitting for rooftop solar PV systems and electric vehicle (EV) charging stations; required EV charging stations for all buildings that are constructing more than 100 additional parking spaces; and an exemption on current height and set back limits for solar panels.

What's the big deal about benchmarking? As previously reported by the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), data released by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 showed that buildings that benchmarked their energy use from 2008-2011 showed a 7 percent average savings in energy over three years. IMT estimated that if all buildings in the U.S. followed this downward trend, it would save more than 18 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. "As the first county to pass an energy benchmarking law, Montgomery County shows that energy benchmarking isn't confined to cities—it's a national movement," Cliff Majersik, executive director of IMT said in a press release on the Montgomery County legislation.

Click below to watch Berliner's statement to the council on Earth Day, when the package was passed: