Thursday, September 28, 2017

NYC's Tall Order for Greener Buildings

Making existing buildings more energy-efficient can cost millions of dollars.  But under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new mandate, owners must either upgrade or pay a hefty fine.

Heating buildings accounts for some 40 percent of New York City's carbon emissions. (Credit: Mike Segar/Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
New York City’s building owners are facing a tall order:  Mayor Bill de Blasio announced earlier this month that the city will become the first to mandate that existing buildings—from municipal offices to private businesses, hospitals, and apartments—must drastically curb their carbon emissions.  Those who don’t comply will face hefty penalties amounting to as much as $2 million a year for a 1 million-square-foot building.

The mandate, which will target 14,500 buildings above 25,000 square feet, will also set a “fossil fuel cap.”  The cap will require buildings to be upgraded or retrofitted with things like more energy-efficient heaters and boilers, as well as solar panels and windows that reduce heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer.

All this will have to be in place by 2030, though the city has yet to give many concrete details, such as what, exactly, the cap will be.  The mayor’s office hasn’t responded to an interview request from CityLab, and has generally been mum on specifics.  A recent New York Times article noted that the plan could could entail limiting market-rate apartments—one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters—to just 50,000 B.T.Us (the measure of fossil fuel usage) per square foot per year.  According to the Times, that would be roughly a 25 to 30 percent reduction from current usage.

It’s an aggressive step from de Blasio—for good reasons.  Heating buildings is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 42 percent of CO2 produced in the Big Apple.  (Worldwide, that number jumps to 70 percent.)  In 2014 the city released its sustainability plan, One City Built to Last, which set a goal of lowering emissions from buildings by nearly 3.4 million tons by 2025.  If all goes as planned, the new mandate could cut 7 percent of the city’s carbon emissions by 2035, which the mayor’s office says is equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the road.

So far, de Blasio has garnered support from environmentalist groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund, whose members joined him in a press conference announcing the mandate.  “[The mandate is] practical because it’s combining a clear deadline with financing and engineering help in a way that makes it as easy as possible to meet the climate target we need to meet,” says Andy Darrell, the New York regional director of EDF who also serves on New York City’s Sustainability Advisory Board.

The de Blasio administration—which has long pledged to reduce 80 percent of the city’s carbon emissions by 2050—is departing from the more common approach of giving developers and building owners incentives like tax breaks and financial grants for pivoting to clean energy.  “We gave people a very fair amount of time in the private sector to come forward and really agree to voluntary goals that will be sufficient,” the mayor told the press last week.  “But time was up. … It was time to move to mandates.”

Read more at NYC's Tall Order for Greener Buildings

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