OneNYC: Continuing the Big Apple's Tradition of Clean Energy Leadership

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio released the city's One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City on Earth Day, and it sets out the mayor's expansive sustainability agenda for the greatest city in the world. "It is a blueprint of the New York City we want our children to inherit," the mayor writes in his introduction to the report known as OneNYC. "The actions we take now will ensure we have a dynamic, inclusive economy, a healthier environment, more affordable housing, and more reliable and resilient infrastructure." NRDC looks forward to working with the mayor's office to implement the many innovative ideas the report contains.

OneNYC is a successor to the pioneering PlaNYC sustainability frameworks Mayor Bloomberg initiated eight years ago. And while specific details about how to achieve various OneNYC priorities will need to be mapped out later, it's clear that the plan is ambitious in what it seeks to accomplish. As the mayor laid out in a Climate Week announcement last September, the city's goal is to cut citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, as science demands if we are to avoid the worst impacts associated with climate change - making New York City the largest city in the world to adopt that critical target. "By 2050, we must reduce nine million metric tons from power production, seven million metric tons from personal and commercial vehicles, two million metric tons from the disposal of solid waste, and the remaining 25 million metric tons from energy used in buildings," OneNYC proclaims.

To make this happen, the mayor has put an important emphasis on equity among all New Yorkers. Measures that improve energy efficiency in New York's almost one million buildings, for instance, can save $1.4 billion in energy costs and create 3,500 construction-related jobs. The idea that these benefits should be available to all--that all New Yorkers can avail themselves of these no matter their circumstances or neighborhood--is one NRDC and the mayor both share.

So, how will all that happen and what will it mean in areas like energy efficiency, renewable energy and electric vehicles? To begin with, because three-quarters of the Big Apple's greenhouse gas emissions come from our building sector, many of OneNYC's energy initiatives are rooted in last fall's One City: Built to Last report, which outlined ways to cut building-related greenhouse gas emissions citywide by 30 percent by 2025 (and by 35 percent over the next ten years for city government). Here, the city plans to lead by example, accelerating retrofits across its portfolio of 4,000 buildings--its schools, libraries, hospitals and other public structures--and improving operations and maintenance so that building systems operate as efficiently as they're designed to. (This so-called retrocommissioning can, all on its own, save 15 percent on a building's energy use and pay for itself in a matter of months. Talk about low-hanging fruit!) The city also plans to site 100 megawatts of solar power on city-owned buildings, and significantly upgrade the energy performance of its 334 public housing developments.

To spur clean energy in the private sector, the city is focusing on empowering building owners to act, and continuing to minimize existing barriers that prevent owners from making energy efficiency investments. In particular, the city will zero in on affordable multifamily housing and thus help the most vulnerable New Yorkers by reducing energy costs and creating healthier places to live. One big way in which the city plans to do this is through what it is calling a "retrofit accelerator" that will help building owners and operators undertake efficiency upgrades and switch to cleaner heating fuels. New financing options will become available through the nonprofit New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation, which aims to support the city's energy and climate action goals by catalyzing an energy efficiency retrofit financing market for private building owners. The city will work to improve efficiency in small and mid-sized buildings, including through requiring energy benchmarking and audits for the latter, building upon the city's groundbreaking Greener, Greater Buildings Plan. It will increase its fleet of plug-in electric vehicles to 1,000 by 2017 and advocate with agencies like the regional Metropolitan Transportation Authority for better transit in underserved areas.

Finally, the city will promote clean sources of energy such as wind and solar power through its support for community solar projects and by enhancing the viability of large-scale wind projects, in addition to other initiatives. Part of these efforts should include the city's advocacy for a strong state renewable energy standard and other policies that can reassert New York state's position as a national leader in clean energy. As discussed in my colleague Jackson Morris' recent blog post, a renewable energy goal of 50 percent by 2025 would send a clear signal to the market that the state is committed to the continued deployment of renewable resources.

Mayor de Blasio's plan has the vision we need to extend the city's reach as a world leader in sustainability. After all, what we do in the Big Apple doesn't stay in the Big Apple. It influences and inspires cities across the country and around the world. That's why we at NRDC look forward to working with the mayor's office to help design programs that can make OneNYC not just a vision but a reality.

80 percent by 2050, here we come!