Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on December 16, 2020
Finally, there’s some good news for co-op and condo boards that are worried about the cost of reducing their buildings’ carbon emissions – or paying stiff fines if they fail to do so – under the city’s sweeping Climate Mobilization Act, also known as Local Law 97. The nonprofit Urban Green Council’s latest Energy and Water Use Report reveals that over the past decade, New York City buildings have already made significant strides toward reducing their carbon footprint.
“Over the last decade, carbon emissions for large buildings in New York have dropped 23%, and that is good news,” says John Mandyck, chief executive at Urban Green Council. “About 60% of that reduction came from investments in energy efficiency and switching out dirty oil fuels. Many buildings reduced carbon emissions by retrofits, including solar panels. If you make your boiler more efficient to save money, you also reduce carbon emissions. The other 40% of the reduction came from a cleaner grid. The power plants became cleaner over the last decade. Also, raw energy use has gone down 8% while the population grew over those 10 years. Those two facts are very good indicators that buildings can be on track to meet the carbon emissions caps of Local Law 97.
The Climate Mobilization Act establishes emissions caps beginning in 2024, which then grow more stringent in 2030, when emissions must be cut by a total of 40% from a 2005 baseline. The new Urban Green Council report included midsize buildings (25,000 to 50,000 square feet) for the first time. “We found that midsize multi-family buildings use 40% more water per square foot and 15% more energy per square foot than large multi-family buildings,” Mandyck says. “That’s a major new finding we didn’t know. One of the reasons for that is the density. There are typically more people per square foot in midsize buildings, and so those buildings use more water and energy.”
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Buildings account for more than two-thirds of the city’s carbon emissions, and reducing those emissions is a major component of city, state and federal efforts to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, a priority of the incoming Biden administration. Those efforts also got a jolt of good news on Tuesday when Princeton University released a major new study revealing that the zero carbon goal is attainable if a “big but affordable effort” to upgrade infrastructure is undertaken immediately, especially to the electric grid so it can handle the rising amount of electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal. Another necessary change will be a move away from the oil or natural gas that now heat most American homes. In the next 10 years, the Princeton report states, nearly one-quarter would need to be warmed with efficient electric heat pumps, double today’s numbers. (The January issue of Habitat will tell the story of an Upper West Side co-op that recently switched from a natural-gas boiler to individual electric heat pumps in every unit.)
The Urban Green Council report found that the transition to cleaner fuels has been a success, but some communities have been left out. “Unfortunately,” the report states, “these improvements are not evenly distributed across the city. The lingering use of residual (low-quality) fuel is concentrated in northern Manhattan and Bronx neighborhoods. This is of particular environmental justice concern, given that these areas are predominantly made up of communities of color and lower socioeconomic status.”
Mandyck prefers to see the glass as half-full. “The data shows that buildings are reducing energy use and carbon emissions,” he says, “and that means we’re optimistic about meeting the goals of the Climate Mobilization Act.”
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