New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Start Complying With the Climate Mobilization Act

Frank Lovece in Green Ideas on December 6, 2019

New York City

Climate Mobilization Act, building carbon emissions, retrofits, co-op and condo boards, benchmarking.

After determining the building's carbon emissions, boards might want to install solar panels or other retrofits.

Dec. 6, 2019

Deadlines are closer than they may appear. For co-op and condo boards that must meet the requirements of New York City's new Local Law 97, which sets increasingly stringent goals for reducing buildings’ greenhouse-gas emissions in 2024, 2030 and beyond, the time to start their long-range capital planning is now.

What are these goals and what will you have to do? Local Law 97 and related new laws that constitute the Climate Mobilization Act require buildings of 25,000 square feet or more to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions by certain target percentages. Obviously, it's not as if your building has a smokestack belching this stuff up. But the power plants that supply your electricity do, since the fossil fuels that most of them burn emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. So these new laws take into account your building's prorated share of those plants' greenhouse-gas emissions.

"In New York City, the majority of the electricity comes from fossil-fuel power plants that mostly use natural gas," explains James Hannah of the energy consultancy Bright Power. When they burn natural gas, there's a measurable amount of emissions"of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere – creating a domino effect that makes the Earth hotter and, according to virtually all climate scientists, could eventually make it unlivable.

The act sets greenhouse-gas limits that go into effect in 2024 and then increase in 2030 and every five years until 2050. There is some good news. The act offers an alternate method of compliance for lower-income buildings like HDFC co-ops, and for buildings with at least one rent-regulated apartment. And energy professionals estimate that 80 percent of affected buildings already are compliant for 2024, and a quarter already are compliant for 2030.

"That's accurate," says Mark Chambers, director of the Mayor's Office of Sustainability. "The first threshold, 2024, is designed to capture the worst-performing 20 percent. The next cap, 2030, is to capture the remainder. The foundation of this effort is carbon reduction." He’s referring to carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas. Buildings that fail to meet the goals will be fined $268 for every metric ton of carbon emissions over their limit – which can run into five figures quickly.

 "We don't want your money,” Chambers insists. “We want your carbon."

Your building  has most likely plucked all the low-hanging fruit of retrofits to reduce your carbon footprint: switching to LED light bulbs, installing motion sensors in places like laundry rooms, insulating heating and hot-water pipes, and installing a heat-control system that measures indoor temperatures and regulates when your boiler's burner and circulating pump cycle on and off.

But what else should your building start doing to ensure that you meet the requirements? What strategy should you employ? Should you install solar panels, a cogen system, new windows? And how do you calculate where you stand right now, so that you can set priorities?

While a math-savvy board can probably calculate its building's greenhouse-gas emissions on its own, it might want to leave the job to the same professional who calculates annual energy benchmarking for Local Laws 84 and 133. That's a smart first step. And the time to take it is now.

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