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For Co-op and Condo Boards, the Energy Future Is Now

New York City

Green Buildings Fast
May 7, 2019

There has been much fretting among co-op and condo boards and their advocates over the demands of New York City’s recently enacted Climate Mobilization Act, which calls for large buildings, including co-ops and condos, to reduce their emissions by 40 percent by 2030. Today we come bearing good news and bad news. 

The good news is that the reductions in energy usage will be measured based on 2005 levels, meaning that boards and landlords who have made strides in energy reduction over the past 14 years will get credit for their work. The poorest performers will need to show improvement sooner, by 2024, but about one-quarter of buildings won’t require substantial changes. Taking the progress already made into consideration, New York will need to level up its building-energy-performance game by 26 percent over the next 11 years, CityLab reports. 

Which brings us to the bad news. Failure to comply with the demands of this law will cost boards and landlords money, potentially serious money. The statute calls for a penalty of $268 per every assessed ton of carbon over the cap. For buildings just over the line, the fine will be nominal. But the city’s worst offenders could be looking at annual penalties of more than $1 million

It’s a policy with teeth, in other words. Fortunately, there’s a lot of room for buildings to improve, according to Vivian Loftness, professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the Paul Mellon chair in architecture. 

“Buildings in the U.S., and certainly commercial buildings, have been incredibly sloppy in their energy use,” Loftness says. “We’ve got [older] mechanical systems that are running at 50 percent efficiency, where there’s things on the market that will run at 95 percent efficiency. We’ve got a lot of room for upgrades for boilers and chillers, air-handling units, control systems – there’s so much room in just the hardware of buildings.” 

The question co-op and condo boards need to start asking themselves is this: how are we going to pay for upgrades to the hardware of our building?

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