Retro-commissioning Taboo: The Ugly Truth of Savings Degradation and What to Do About it

By: Ashley Downes, vice president


Industry Snapshot

Rising energy costs often become an issue for hospitals as their facilities and equipment age. In such cases, retro-commissioning is a valuable solution. Retro-commissioning a building’s existing energy infrastructure can improve occupant comfort and environmental quality while also optimizing energy conservation and saving money. Whether the goal is to reduce energy costs or to allocate resources for staffing and facility improvements, evaluating and adjusting energy systems can enable a healthcare facility to focus on its mission: patient care.

As buildings and equipment age over time, a facility’s energy use may change as well. Without efficient operations and maintenance, these factors can cause the savings from a retro-commissioning project to dwindle. This is when facilities encounter degradation, and previous savings can fall by up to 10 percent after the first year. After five years, the savings found through retro-commissioning can vanish completely. So how do we make sure facilities continue to save on energy costs in the long term?

Long-Term Solutions

One option is to pay for a whole new retro-commissioning every few years, so that after the savings are lost, a new revamp takes place. However, I recommend facilities participate in constant commissioning, which costs less over the long-term than repeated full retro-commissionings and fights savings degradation. This process uses remote monitoring to help facility managers actively understand how their systems are changing daily, for better or worse, to prevent the loss of energy savings.

Remote monitoring helps operators verify sustained savings for the facility through the use of measurement and verification, automated fault detection, and continuous data collection and archival. The advanced measurement and verification system I utilize produces a scorecard on the facility’s performance that illustrates its current energy usage versus the usage before retro-commissioning to give a better understanding of the changes and their effects. Automated fault detection sends a real-time notification when a problem is identified in the energy system, allowing facility managers to immediately address it. Additionally, I would recommend the use of continuous data collection and archiving. This will give you the ability to track a facility’s energy trends over long periods of time, revealing insights that might not otherwise be obvious. All of these tools allow facility managers to make data-driven decisions to keep their energy systems optimized.

The Secret Sauce

In addition to these tools, there’s one other thing that’s equally as important in the fight against savings degradation: buy-in from the facility’s staff. In short, to maintain the savings, the staff has to understand how the new infrastructure works and why it matters.

During a retro-commissioning project, it’s important to comb through the building’s automation system to understand how things are operating in terms of air flow, outside air, and pressurization. With this baseline, it’s time to reprogram the system to create and maintain optimal levels, taking into account building codes, pressurization requirements, etc. This is where organizations find savings– by reducing factors like fan speeds and simultaneous heating and cooling, one of the biggest drivers of energy costs in a hospital. The end goal is to reach a point where everyone at the facility is comfortable and the energy use is at a minimum.

This is only the beginning. If the actual operations and maintenance staff at the hospital begin to operate this new system but don’t understand how the specific changes made in the retro-commissioning process work, they may be tempted to be reactionary in the day-to-day. Oftentimes, staff members override the changes in order to facilitate a specific request, rather than simply allowing the system to do its job. In some cases, we’ve even seen staff members remove or delete programming altogether. If these things happen, savings the hospital would have seen from retro-commissioning can go out the window.

For this reason, it’s very important to have staff members trained in not only how to utilize the new system but also why it matters. These trainings should be given by those who performed the retro-commissioning in order to maintain maximum savings. A general knowledge of how the facility’s energy systems work is not enough to ensure staff members understand why the system is operating the way it is after a retro-commissioning. Again, if they don’t understand why, they’ll often go right back to what they’re used to, and facility energy costs will go back to what they were as well.


To get staff members on board, there needs to be a top-down culture change. Upper management has to be on board with the retro-commissioning changes and be willing to challenge staff members who want to make overrides. This is not to say that overrides can never happen. Changes may be necessary at times to deal with hot or cold calls or other pressing issues. However, any overrides should be targeted and temporary, and it’s vital that staff members recognize this.

Meanwhile, feedback from those staff members, patients, and physicians, is also important. While outside retro-commissioning teams generally understand how hospitals operate, they also recognize each facility is different and some adjustments may be needed. That’s why constant commissioning works best. When there is a strong relationship between the facility and the people monitoring its systems, long-term success is attainable. Together, partners can ensure the hospital is operating efficiently (with its energy and its monetary resources) in a way that is truly optimized for its core mission: helping the community.


For the last decade, Ashley Downes has spent her career helping establish Bernhard’s retro-commissioning service line and now spends countless hours traveling across the United States as a steward for healthcare facilities working to save them energy costs. She is currently a director in Bernhard’s engineering division. Her team focuses on hospitals and medical centers, which during the COVID-19 pandemic have been asked to do more and stretch their facility capabilities further. With Ashley’s guidance, they can make strategic systems improvements, shift use and utility, reconsider scheduled maintenance and see savings in utility spend.

Bernhard’s Ashley Brennan Named to CityBusiness 2021 Women of the Year List

Brennan recognized for innovative leadership and community impact


New Orleans CityBusiness has named Bernhard’s Ashley Brennan to its 2021 Women of the Year list. A Louisiana native, Brennan serves as a project administrator at Metairie-based Bernhard, the largest privately-owned Energy-as-a-Service (“EaaS”) solutions company in the United States.

This annual list identifies and honors 50 outstanding women whose successes in business and contributions to the community have set the pace for the region’s future. According to New Orleans CityBusiness, Women of the Year honorees are “innovative leaders who are making waves with their energy, ideas, achievements and commitment to excellence in the area.”

“I am humbled to receive this honor,” said Brennan. “Improving and impacting the lives of others is an integral part of who I am. To have my hard work and community investment recognized in this way is touching and motivating. There is so much more we can do to make a change and the support of my employer and my community enables me to be a small part of this change.”

Volunteering and civic engagement is a major part of Brennan’s life. She has been involved with the Junior League of New Orleans since 2010 and while she has held various leadership positions throughout her League career, her most recent position was as Business Council Director on the Executive Board of Directors for the 2017-2018 League Year. She is also involved with Cabrini High School Alumnae Association, and is a recent graduate of the Class of 2021 and a Distinguished Fellow of the Nancy M. Marsiglia Institute of Justice, a program through the United Way of Southeast Louisiana and Loyola University’s College of Law. Brennan has been recognized for her civic and professional achievements through the March of Dimes Spotlight on Success, NORDC’s Women’s History Month Award, New Orleans City Business and the Class of 2018 Leadership Jefferson. Born in New Orleans, raised in Metairie and a product of Cabrini High School and the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette. Brennan joined Bernhard in 2014 and has worked in various roles and departments through her seven years, currently serving as a project administrator.

“We are proud Ashley has received this recognition highlighting her commitment to continually going above and beyond to bettering her community,” said Travis Bernhard, Vice President of IS Delivery at Bernhard. “She has been a vital piece to our team and incredibly deserving of this honor.”

Nominations were accepted from the public and a selection committee utilized these nominations and independent research to make final selections. Honorees will be given the Women of the Year award at an event at the Hyatt Regency.

Midland Health earns 5th ENERGY STAR Certification since Bernhard Partnership; Outperforms 86% of Similar U.S. Buildings in Efficiency

Program identifies the most energy-efficient buildings based on latest government-backed standards


Bernhard has announced that Midland Health has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR® certification for superior energy performance. This is the 5th year that Midland Health has earned the ENERGY STAR certification since partnering with Bernhard to optimize energy efficiency.

Midland’s ENERGY STAR scores reflect continual growth and efficiency for their energy operations. In 2016, Midland received their first ENERGY STAR Certification with a score of 75. With an unwavering commitment to increasing their energy efficiency, Midland has now seen their overall score increase by 10 percentage points in just 6 years.

“Earning another ENERGY STAR certification despite these difficult times is a true testament to the continuous work of our employees,” said Abraham Bejil, Director of Engineering at Midland Health. “We are proud to be part of an organization that is able to earn this certification for the last 6 years that shows our commitment to doing our part to protect the environment and public health of our community.”

The ENERGY STAR certification program was created in 1992 to help businesses save energy and fight climate change. Today, every ENERGY STAR label is verified by a rigorous third-party certification process. ENERGY STAR is the only environmental program in the United States that certifies energy efficiency based on actual, verified energy performance and objective measures of performance, providing a guarantee of savings.

“Improving the energy efficiency of our nation’s buildings is critical to protecting our environment,” said Jean Lupinacci, Chief of the ENERGY STAR Commercial & Industrial Branch. “From the boiler room to the board room, organizations are leading the way by making their buildings more efficient and earning EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification.”

Bernhard’s storied history with Midland has given their team a unique perspective on Midland’s energy infrastructure and allowed for continued success utilizing their cutting-edge delivery methods to boost the facility’s energy efficiency year after year. Midland has trusted Bernhard with more than 25 projects over the last 10 years. The latest project, a 15-year Energy-as-a-Service project that provides $19M in infrastructure improvements and more than $664,000 in energy savings annually.

“Fulfilling the promises we make to our customers is something we take tremendous pride in,” said Rob Guthrie, Bernhard Chief Development Officer. “We take their trust very seriously and deploy everything our team of experts has to better a facility for future generations. The 2021 Midland certification is something to celebrate, and we’re looking forward to helping the hospital achieve an even higher score in 2022.”

To date, tens of thousands of buildings and plants across all fifty states have earned the ENERGY STAR. For more information about ENERGY STAR for Buildings and Plants, visit

CenTrio and Bernhard to promote reliability, operational efficiency, and sustainability at LSU under a 30-year public-private-partnership

The P3 deal will create more than $90 million in energy savings


Bernhard and CenTrio reached financial close with the Louisiana State University (LSU) Board of Supervisors to modernize the utility systems at the University’s main campus in Baton Rouge. The 30-year partnership is expected to generate substantial energy and operational savings for LSU while promoting sustainability, reliability and efficiency of utility systems campus-wide.

Tiger Energy Partners (TEP), a joint venture between Bernhard and Johnson Controls, will design and construct the initial modernization solutions of LSU’s central power production, steam and chilled water plants. CenTrio, as the concessionaire, will fund the modernization in addition to operating and maintaining LSU’s utility systems for the next 30 years. CenTrio will have the opportunity to perform and invest into additional capital improvements to the utility system needed to accommodate campus growth and address capital renewal and deferred maintenance. TEP will have the opportunity to design, build, and finance future building mechanical system upgrades on the Baton Rouge campus.

“We are thrilled to begin this modernization project at the Baton Rouge campus,” CenTrio’s Chief Operating Officer Doug Castleberry said. “CenTrio looks forward to making the Baton Rouge campus more resilient, efficient, and sustainable. By investing in university campuses, we are not only helping with their immediate energy infrastructure needs but also allowing them to focus capital and other resources on their core mission of education and research.”

“Perhaps the most rewarding part of moving forward with this project is knowing we are increasing local job creation and creating a positive impact for the local economy,” said Ed Tinsley, Bernhard’s Chief Executive Officer. “Bernhard was founded in Baton Rouge more than 100 years ago and this partnership highlights our unwavering dedication to Louisiana now, and for future generations to come.”

CenTrio, a leading utility public-private partnership (P3) developer, investor, and operator that develops, manages and operates critical energy infrastructures serving more than 400 buildings in urban centers, universities, and hospitals across the United States with a focus on reliability, energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. In October 2020, CenTrio established a similar partnership with Syracuse University to modernize its utility system infrastructure under a 40-year public-private-partnership.

Bernhard has had a presence in Louisiana since 1919, completing more than 400 projects for LSU during that time span, including the design and construction of LSU’s existing combined heating and power system. In addition to its LSU experience and Louisiana headquarters, Bernhard also operates and maintains over 100,000 tons of cooling in markets throughout the Southeast, including the on-going operation and maintenance of the energy plants at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and the Shaw Center for the Arts in Baton Rouge.

CenTrio also has strong ties to New Orleans and the State of Louisiana. The company began operating in New Orleans in 2000, providing thermal energy and backup generation services to Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center. The company has since spent over $100 million modernizing the facility, expanded to serve other customers in the city, and invested another $200 million in the local economy.