NYC’s “Greener, Greater Buildings Plan” for Reducing Building C02 Emissions

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In a session at the National Building Museum, Laurie Kerr, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, NYC Government, outlined NYC’s efforts to significantly reduce emissions from the city’s almost one million buildings, while also cutting back energy use. “It’s harder to get energy in,” Kerr argued, also saying that NYC’s energy grid is becoming increasingly unreliable. The building energy efficiency program, the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, is part of the broader PlaNYC 2030, the city’s sustainable development plan, and a major part of the effort to meet NYC’s greenhouse-gas (GHG) reduction target of 30 percent by 2030. This GHG reduction target was recently made into law by the City Council.

Looking at “existing technologies” for reducing GHG, Kerr said efficient buildings can take out 16.7 million tons/year (30 percent of targeted reductions); reduced sprawl can cut 15.6 million tons/year (another 30 percent of targeted reductions); clean power can reduce 10.8 million tons/year;  and efficient transportation can lead to 6.1 million tons/year in reductions.

Kerr explained that 77 percent of NYC’s emissions come from buildings. Within this 77 percent, almost a third are associated with residential buildings; commerical buildings account for another 22 percent. While there are a number of “LEED flagship buildings,” Kerr said the real issue is making sure all buildings are energy efficient. With the USGBC NY Chapter, the NYC government launched a Green the Codes Taskforce to change building codes. NYC government is targeting their own buildings, which, Kerr says, account for 6.5 percent of total building emissions. Mayor Bloomberg is also partnering with educational institutions, including Columbia University, N.Y.U., and the C.U.N.Y. system, hospitals, as well as Broadway theatres.

To address the emissions from buildings, NYC outlined a number of proposals in the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, which has gone to the City Council for approval (they are hoping for a vote in September). If implemented, the plan will first target emission reductions in larger buildings. NYC is aiming at larger buildings (50,000 square feet or more) first because the top two percent of NYC’s buildings account for almost 50 percent of total emissions. “If we suceed, it will be the equivalent of making the City of Oakland carbon-neutral,” Kerr argues.

The plan has six components:

NYC Energy Code: NYC will create its own energy code which addresses all buildings.

Lighting Upgrades: Focusing on larger buildings, lighting upgrades will first aim at tenant spaces. The rules proposed would ensure that as spaces are renovated, they are brought up to new, more stringent lighting codes. “Why lighting as opposed to other systems?” Kerr asks.  “Lighting is separable from other building systems, accounts for 20 percent of all building emissions, and have improved the fastest in terms of efficiency over the past few years.” Also, lighting upgrades are relatively cost-efficient.

Benchmarking:  This is a “transparency proposal.” Large buildings will need to log and disclose their energy usage data, and use something like EPA’s Portfolio Manager Tool. There will be annual benchmarking among buildings of the same type (schools can compare themselves with other schools, for instance). As for putting labels in building lobbies, Kerr said this was “too much for the building sector to handle,” so the data will only be available through the Office of Finance, which is where real estate firms go to look for data.

Audits and Retrofits: Larger buildings will need to go through a full energy audit once every ten years. Retrofits will target the central building systems (beyond tenant systems) for upgrade. Kerr outlined a list of “improvements that pay for themselves,” including more efficient faucets and showerheads, lighting fixtures, etc.

Green Workforce Development Training: The City will involve unions, real estate groups, and other organizations to address skills gaps, and also look at existing certifications and training programs to see how they can be amended to meet NYC requirements. “There needs to be an infrastructure to support the changes we are looking for.”

Green Building Financing:  The City hopes to launch a USD 16 million loan fund using Federal energy efficiency block grants, and further expand the funds available using the Federal stimulus. These funds are designed to help larger buildings retrofit if they discover they can’t afford upgrades once they’ve completed their audit.

Kerr argues the overall impact will be: 5 percent GHG reductions; 19,000 jobs; USD 750 million in energy cost reductions; and local economic stimulus.

Other non-building components of NYC’s GHG reductions plan: NYC is hoping for congestion pricing in Manhattan (which the state has yet to approve), and is working to ensure all cabs are hybrid vehicles. Additionally, NYC has passed a law (the first ever, Kerr added) to allow for household distributed co-generation of energy. “Waste energy” produced close to home can be used locally, “making the existing grid twice as efficient.” As for renewable energy, NYC just opened a tidal power farm in the East River, and implemented a city-wide solar tax credit. There is also a wind-power-on-buildings pilot project underway.

PlaNYC was created to anticipate issues caused by the estimated one million new residents expected to come to NYC by 2030. PlaNYC has led to changes in NYC’s efforts to mitigate, and also adapt to, climate change. For instance, PlaNYC led to the launch of a NYC Panel on Climate Change to address adaptation related issues for the city, particularly the city’s 580 miles of coastline. PlaNYC also led to the development of 148 “green streets,” 100,000 new tree plantings (out of a targeted one million), and select rapid bus services.

Read more from PlaNYC

2 thoughts on “NYC’s “Greener, Greater Buildings Plan” for Reducing Building C02 Emissions

  1. Cindy 07/28/2009 / 2:34 pm

    Very interesting. The benchmarking is especially appealing because of the proposed “transparency proposal,” all good intentions for green design and building are just that, intentions, the accountability factor should make all the difference. In order to progress and move forward with this movement builders and officials must be sure to uphold the standards and details outlined so the end result can actually be succesful and affect a larger change–hopefully then other big cities can jump on this bandwagon.

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  2. hinkley 07/29/2009 / 10:52 am

    I’m surprised that lighting accounts for 20% of emissions. It’s such an easy fix and it should’ve been changed years ago, but I’m glad they’re doing something about it now. I really hope this plan succeeds. It would make an UNBELIEVEABLE difference!

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