NYC Continues to Move the Dial on Climate and Clean Energy

Thanks to Mayor de Blasio’s recent commitment to adopt the principles of the Paris climate agreement and new legislation introduced last week in the New York City Council, the Big Apple will continue to play a vital role in helping to guard against climate change’s worst effects.

New York City's buildings are responsible for more than two-thirds of its carbon emissions. A new suite of legislation in the City Council would reduce those by promoting energy efficiency and solar power.

Bartosch Salmanski via Flickr

On June 2nd, the Mayor joined at least 180 cities and other local governments in stepping in to fill the ever-increasing void on climate that the federal government has left us. With Executive Order 26, the mayor is directing City agencies to work with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, other partners, and leading cities across the U.S. to create a plan by September 30th that will further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with the Paris agreement. The suite of legislation introduced last week would help New York City achieve those goals through the increased deployment of clean energy, including energy efficiency—the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to reduce emissions.

Buildings have always been central to New York City—many of them are icons of our great metropolis, like the Empire State Building. In fact, just as there are more than 8.5 million New Yorkers, there are an estimated one million New York City buildings—5 billion square feet of built space. The suite of legislation includes Int. No. 1629, which would require new, aggressive energy-use standards to go into effect in 2025 that would make New York’s new and substantially reconstructed mid-size and large buildings among the most energy-efficient in the country. The legislation’s influence would likely be felt beyond our borders, as lessons learned and experience gained through such energy-efficient projects here can be brought to other jurisdictions far and wide. (New, City-owned and -developed buildings already have to meet a “low energy intensity” standard, thanks to local laws enacted last spring, as described by our friends at Urban Green Council.) The bill would also require the adoption of a “stretch” code, which would ensure that the energy performance of New York City’s buildings reach beyond what is required by the base New York State Energy Code.

Another key piece of the legislative package, Int. No. 1632, would require that buildings larger than 25,000 square feet display an “energy grade”—an indicator of energy performance that includes energy use—along with an energy asset score, which indicates how efficient a building’s design, construction, and energy systems are. These would be displayed near the entrance to the building and at the time of lease or sale. Just in the way EPA car mileage labels enable consumers to compare mileage when purchasing a car, this requirement will help prospective building purchasers understand the respective energy performance of various buildings. Such performance will, in turn, become a factor in purchasing decisions and the labeling will drive improvements by owners who want their buildings to be able to compete effectively with similar but more energy-efficient buildings. With this piece of legislation enacted, New York City would become the largest city in the country to require building energy-use labeling.

There’s more, too: Int. No. 1637 would create an energy policy task force to design, and periodically update, a long-term energy plan for the city. Another bill (Int. No. 1644) would create a green project accelerator working with the Department of Buildings that would fast-track renewable energy projects in or on buildings. Two additional pieces of legislation would promote collective solar purchasing programs, sometimes called “Solarize” campaigns, that can cut the costs of solar by between 10 and 20 percent. One  (Int. No. 1630) would require the development and implementation of a plan to encourage city employees to increase their use of solar energy and the other (Int. No. 1639) would require a similar plan for the city’s Business Improvement Districts.

This suite of legislation will build on the City’s pioneering efforts to cut energy waste and  increase solar in buildings, which are responsible for more than two-thirds of the city’s carbon emissions. New York’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, enacted in 2009 and updated last fall so that it covers nearly 60 percent of the city’s built area, made our Metropolis a leader nationwide on building energy efficiency. These new bills can push that leadership further by helping building owners and tenants save serious money on their energy bills, improving the quality of the air our kids breathe, increasing the resiliency of our electric grid, and creating new jobs by driving demand for clean energy.

We look forward to working with New York City and building owners and other key stakeholders to make the goals set forward in the legislation a reality and to continue to move forward to fulfill New York City’s commitment to meet the terms of the Paris climate agreement and achieve its goal of cutting carbon pollution 80 percent by 2050.

New York’s buildings are inseparable from the city itself—iconic, substantial, recognized around the world. With this package of legislation and continued efforts stemming from the mayor’s Paris commitment, New York City has the opportunity to continue to make its skyline among the greenest in the world.

About the Authors

Donna De Costanzo

Director, Eastern Region, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Samantha Wilt

Senior Policy Analyst, Climate & Clean Energy Program
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