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Urban Green Council Maps “Pathways” to Comply With Local Law 97

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on June 7, 2023

New York City

LL 97 Pathways
June 7, 2023

For co-op and condo boards shivering with dread over the cost of complying with New York City’s Local Law 97, the nonprofit Urban Green Council has some good news: about 88% of multifamily buildings are already in compliance with 2024 caps on their carbon emissions; more than one-third already comply for 2030; and many more are well on their way to compliance. To top it off, there are increasingly generous incentives from the city, state and federal governments to help pay for costly retrofits.

These encouraging facts are laid out in Urban Green Council’s new study, “Multifamily Pathways to 2030.” 

“It’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to be a lot of work,” says Adam Schiabor, manager of research at Urban Green Council and the lead author of the study. “But if you’re smart and you start planning now what needs to be done, this is feasible. We can’t give in to fatalistic thinking — just because you can’t reach your goal today, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get there eventually.”

To illustrate the point, the Pathways study divides multifamily buildings into four categories: 2030 ready; well-on-their-way; tough-but-doable; and leapfrog potential.

2030 ready. As the title implies, these buildings — more than one-third of multifamily properties — won’t have to spend a dime to meet the second round of carbon caps in 2030. “These buildings,” the study says, “should focus on projects that will get them ready for full electrification, which will likely be required to get them to net-zero by 2050” — the ultimate goal of Local Law 97.

Well-on-their way. About one-quarter of multifamily buildings can meet the 2030 goals by reducing their carbon emissions by less than 20%. “These are well-run, efficient buildings,” Schiabor says, and they won’t require major retrofits. “They might just need to optimize or balance their steam system, or air-seal around windows and air-conditioning units, or switch to low-flow bathroom fixtures.”

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Tough-but-doable. An additional one-quarter of multifamily buildings face a stiffer challenge — reducing their carbon emissions by 20% to 40%. “These buildings will need to take on more ambitious retrofits,” Schiabor says. “Maybe install roof insulation, or switch to an electric domestic hot water system.” Electrifying hot water production, the study adds, “is a great way for a building to tap into the cleaner electricity that is set to flow through NYC’s grid by 2030.” That electricity will become cleaner as the grid abandons fossil fuels and generates electricity through such renewable sources as wind, solar and hydroelectric.

Leapfrog potential. A minority of buildings — fewer than 15% — will have to reduce their carbon emissions by more than 40% by 2030. Half of these properties burn fuel oil as their primary energy source, a major source of pollution. But simply switching to cleaner natural gas, while relatively cheap, might prove short-sighted. “Switching to natural gas might get them clear for 2030,” Schiabor says, “but they’ll probably need to electrify their space heating by 2040. Why not do it now?” One reason, of course, is the prohibitive cost of replacing fossil fuel-powered boilers with electric heat pumps.

Which brings us to the large and growing smorgasbord of incentives available to co-op and condo boards. The centerpiece is the federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which has set aside $370 billion to fight climate change, including a $27 billion green bank. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has created a web page detailing federal and state tax credits, incentives and other sources of funding for clean-energy projects.

Meanwhile, the NYC Accelerator offers free personalized guidance to co-op and condo boards, including how to secure Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans, which allow boards to install energy-efficient retrofits with no upfront money, paying them off over the life of the retrofit through liens on the building’s property taxes.

“In a way,” Schiabor says, “this is a great time to be doing this stuff. There’s a ton of support, and there’s momentum.”

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