Fighting to Keep the Green and the Great in New York City's Greener, Greater Building Plan

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the launch of the 1,000 Supers Green Building Training Initiative photo via

Last Friday, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he was abandoning one of the most ambitious components of his Greener, Greater Buildings Plan. This component would have required owners of buildings greater than 50,000 square feet to complete mandatory energy audits and then subsequently make energy efficient improvements. The package of legislation still has crucial provisions that will result in a greener New York City, including the creation of NYC's first energy code for buildings and the requirement that large buildings would inform tenants about their individual energy usage. Yesterday, some of New York's leading environmental advocates joined the bill's sponsors urging for its passage. The revised plan will still reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5%, save New Yorkers millions in energy costs and improve conditions for tenants. The City Council vote is scheduled on the package tomorrow. According to The New York Times Mayor Bloomberg retracted the mandatory retrofits after building owners complained that the required renovations were "an unfunded mandate" and insisted that the bill's timing during a recession was a "slap in the face". The Village Voice painted it as a post-election backtracking on pre-election promises.

The mandatory retrofits would have affected 22,000 buildings, accounting for approximately 50% of the city's square footage while creating an estimated 17,000 new construction jobs. Whether the predicted jobs number will still be as high is debatable. City Officials estimated that many of those jobs would still be created by other initiatives in the legislation that call for lighting upgrades and energy inspections. But others, including the Building Trades Employers' Association, suspect that the number of jobs created will be much less, potentially fewer than 5,000.

Without the mandatory repairs, the plan is not as impressive. The legislation as it is proposed will still require building owners to pay for mandatory energy audits, but renovations will be voluntary. New York's real estate community already seems to have decided that the renovations will be too costly to implement given the current difficulties in obtaining bank loans.

The Plan was announced on Earth Day 2009, as a key component of New York City's plan to reduce emissions 30% by 2030. It was a key component because in New York City, buildings account for 80% of total carbon emissions. The package of four bills promised to be the most ambitious U.S. effort to reduce energy greenhouse gas emissions from existing buildings. Other American cities require that new buildings be energy efficient, but do not impose standards on existing buildings.

Interest groups have launched a last-ditch effort to derail this plan, particularly Introduction Number 976-A. Int. 976-A, which is sponsored by Council Member Jim Gennaro, is the part of the plan that will require large buildings to undergo an energy audit, retrocommission (retune building systems) and submit an energy report. This process would work take 10 years to go through the building stock, and buildings would repeat the process every 10 years.

Urban Green Council (New York City's USGBC chapter) estimated the cost of compliance with this bill to be 15 cents per square foot for audits and 30 cents per square foot for retrocommisioning (the retrocommissioning will have a one year payback). That's a small price to pay to lead the nation in greening existing buildings.

More on Greening New York City
NYC to cut Greenhouse gas emissions by 30%
TH Interview with Ariella Maron Deputy Director of NYC's Sustainability Office
NYC Taxi's to go Hybrid
Bloomberg Proposes Congestion Charge for Manhattan

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