Clean Revolution case study: New York City

Author:
Clare Saxon Ghauri
Reading time: 10 minutes
26 September 2012

This is part of The Climate Group's Clean Revolution case study series. Read an interview with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

New York City’s Clean Revolution has been led by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and his detailed and comprehensive sustainability plan, called PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York. PlaNYC’s most important initiative has been to take on a comprehensive approach to reducing energy consumption in existing buildings, leveraging the fact that New York City has control over its own construction and energy codes. Through a set of mandates that cover half of the city’s real estate, the Greener Greater Buildings Plan will cut New York’s carbon emissions – already the lowest in the United States, per capita – by at least 5%

Few cities can rival New York’s skyline, dominated by skyscrapers and lights. The towers that define the city give it its density, its efficiency, and its architectural character. But many of them consume far more energy than necessary, due to outdated equipment, poor maintenance, and mis-matched financial incentives that leave neither tenants nor landlords eager to undertake retrofits.

Over the last four years, however, New York City has quietly and patiently been changing their sparkling skyline into an energy efficient skyline.

Proposed by Mayor Bloomberg and supported by City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan was enacted into law in December 2009. Developed in close consultation with the real estate community – and ultimately endorsed by the Real Estate Board of New York – the plan is arguably the most comprehensive approach to reducing greenhouse gases from existing buildings undertaken in any American city.

It uses the city Government’s ability to impose mandates, but works with the grain of the real estate industry and focuses on cost-effective measures. Focused on the 2% of the city’s buildings that comprise half of its square footage, it is expected to create more than 17,800 constructed related jobs when fully implemented.

Since the law passed, nearly 20,000 buildings have undertaken a mandated energy benchmarking exercise, which will be posted publicly starting next year. Many buildings are choosing to comply with the other provisions early, which is fostering growth among a set of companies big and small that are providing efficiency services. And energy consumption in New York City’s buildings is beginning to decline.

If the US’s largest city with a complex and diverse network of business, government and citizens can convene the necessary actors to transform their skyline for the better, any city can.

NEW YORK’S IDENTITY IS ITS SKYLINE. BY MAKING OUR BUILDINGS GREENER AND GREATER, NEW YORK IS SAVING MONEY, CREATING JOBS, AND REDUCING CARBON EMISSIONS.
– Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City of New York

WHAT'S BEING DONE?

In April 2007, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg released PlaNYC, a forward looking roadmap for NYC that committed the city, amongst many other actions, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30% by 2030.

In April 2009 the Mayor proposed, and in December 2009 the City Council passed, the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan. This comprehensive legislative package mandated audits, benchmarking, retro-commissioning, lighting retrofits, and sub-metering for large buildings – many of which were first in the nation.

In April 2011, the City launched the non-legislative component of the plan, a financing agency called the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation, to assist landlords in financing energy efficiency upgrades.

PRIMARY ELEMENTS OF NEW YORK CITY’S GREENER, GREATER BUILDINGS PLAN

  • Took local control of the energy code and updated it to require that all renovations comply with the current energy code.
  • Requires lighting to be upgraded over the next 15 years, consistent with an approach that would see lighting brought up to code each time a lease is renewed.
  • Requires sub-metering of non-residential spaces over 10,000 square feet to be implemented, also at the time of lease renewal.
  • Requires energy audits and retro-commissioning of large buildings every ten years.
  • Requires large buildings to undertake an annual energy benchmarking analysis; beginning in 2012, the results will be made public each year.

Building on the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, New York City’s Green Codes Task Force, released 111 recommendations to continue to improve the codes and regulations that govern construction to increase the energy efficiency of buildings. At least 24 of the recommendations have been implemented to date.

DRIVING FORCES

STRATEGIC IMPACT

Buildings account for roughly 75% of New York City’s energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

SOCIAL BENEFITS

Buildings and local power plants account for a large portion of local air pollution; more efficient buildings will emit fewer pollutants, improving the health and quality of life of New York City’s citizens.

FINANCIAL

New York City’s economy expends approximately $13 billion each year for energy. Reducing these costs will help ensure that the city remains competitive.

CHALLENGES

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

The complexity of the New York City real estate market makes energy efficiency policy an equally complex challenge. Nonfinancial constraints – lease terms, union rules, safety and fire codes, and ownership structure – are often a greater challenge than a simple lack of financing or will. Developing and implementing the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan requires ongoing and intense interaction with all stakeholders in the real estate sector and deep expertise among civil servants.

FINANCING

A major constraint landlords face is the ability to get financing for energy efficiency upgrades; this was particularly acute when the plan was proposed in early 2009. To deal with this, the Mayor changed the proposal to require retro-commissioning (maintenance and fine-tuning of existing equipment) rather than retrofits involving capital investments, after finding that 85% of the energy savings from projects with payback periods of five years or less was from retro-commissioning rather than capital investment.

The numbers

26,000

Number of buildings covered by the main provisions of the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan

75%

Percentage of New York City’s carbon footprint attributed to energy use in buildings

45%

Percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions addressed through the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan

78,000

Number of construction-related jobs that will be created as a result of the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan

$700 MILLION

Annual energy cost savings expected from the retro-commissioning, lighting upgrades and sub-metering provisions of the plan

5%

Minimum reduction in GHG emissions expected from implementation of the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan

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