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For Co-op and Condo Boards, Now Is the Time to Electrify

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on December 8, 2021

New York City

Building electrification, electric heat pumps, electric grid, Climate Mobilization Act.
Dec. 8, 2021

Co-op and condo boards will soon face momentous decisions on how to reduce their buildings’ carbon emissions to avoid stiff fines under the city’s Climate Mobilization Act. In a new report called “Grid Ready,” the nonprofit Urban Green Council (UGC) offers the encouraging news that the city’s electric grid is ready to handle increasing demand if co-op and condo boards start switching from fossil-fuel-fired boilers to the new generation of electric heat pumps.

“Boards need to start thinking about electrification right now,” says Sean Brennan, director of research at UGC and the lead author of the 52-page report. “There’s no waiting in line. The simple fact is that switching to electric heat pumps will cut a building’s carbon emissions.”

Currently fewer than 1% of the city’s million-plus buildings get their heating, cooling and domestic hot water exclusively from electricity rather than fossil fuels. The current grid, according to the report, will be able to provide power until almost half of the city’s buildings are fully electrified. After that, major infrastructure upgrades will be required. “Over the next few years,” the report states, “projected building electrification poses little to no threat to New York City’s power grid.”

John Mandyck, chief executive at UGC, says this fact should inspire co-op and condo boards to get busy. “Our hope is that people start to electrify their buildings now,” Mandyck says. “We have plenty of capacity to take them off fossil fuels. If you care about climate change, you have to care about electrification. This is the single greatest opportunity to fight climate change.”

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A paradox lies at the heart of that opportunity. Long before last April’s shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, New York State was working to convert the power source for its electric grid from today’s gas turbines to such renewable sources as solar, wind and water. The state’s goal is to have a zero-carbon grid by 2040. Paradoxically, the source of electricity should not be a concern for co-op and condo boards looking for ways to reduce their buildings’ carbon output.

“It’s not a co-op or condo board’s duty to worry about the greening of the grid,” Brennan says. “What they need to know is that electric heat pumps will cut their carbon emissions right now, period.”

The road to electrification does have potholes. One is the fact that current incentives are targeted at defraying the cost of buying and installing heat pumps. “We think incentives should also go toward electric service upgrades for the buildings,” Brennan says, noting that beefing up a building’s infrastructure to handle higher electricity loads isn’t cheap. “It could double the cost of electrification.”

Meanwhile, Brennan adds, boards should be taking less radical steps to improve their building’s energy efficiency. These include sealing gaps around doors and windows, installing double-pane windows and roof insulation, switching to LED lighting, installing smart controls to regulate temperatures throughout the building, and installing a larger hot water tank to avoid morning and evening surges in demand for hot water.

For boards that want to explore the possibility of electrifying their buildings, the “Grid Ready” report contains an interactive map that spells out the ways building electrification will increase and shift power demand throughout New York City. The map also shows the capacity for electrification under the city’s current grid.

Brennan, along with Doreen Harris, the president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, will be part of an online panel discussion of the “Grid Ready” report that UGC is hosting at 10 a.m. on January 27. To register, click here

Mandyck concludes that the lessons contained in the UGC report boil down to this: “The crisis of climate change should be pushing co-op and condo boards to electrify their buildings sooner rather than later.”

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