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New York City Bans Natural Gas in New Buildings

New York City

Gas hookup ban, green electricity grid, Climate Mobilization Act, co-ops and condos.
Dec. 17, 2021

The New York City Council has passed a bill banning natural gas hookups in new construction under seven stories tall beginning in 2023, extending to taller buildings in 2027, The New York Times reports. The vote makes New York the largest city in the country to impose such a ban, which is designed to slow climate change by equipping buildings with efficient electric heat pumps, water boilers and stoves — as the electricity grid is increasingly powered by such renewable sources as solar, wind and water.

A state law requires the electricity grid to be carbon neutral by 2040

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called for the ban two years ago, will sign the bill “enthusiastically,” says Ben Furnas, the director of the Mayor's Office of Climate and Sustainability. “It’s a historic step forward in our efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere.”

The ban comes as many co-op and condo boards are wrestling with ways to reduce their buildings' carbon emissions enough to comply with the city's Climate Mobilization Act, which will begin imposing fines in 2024 for buildings to fail to meet their carbon reduction goals. A new report from NYU's Guarini Center suggests that the greening of the electricity grid will enable many residential buildings to comply with the law without making expensive retrofits. Others could switch from gas-fired boilers to electric heat pumps as a way of meeting their carbon caps. And others, the report suggests, would benefit from a system of "carbon trading," which allows noncompliant buildings to avoid fines by buying credits from compliant buildings. 

Con Edison, along the Urban Green Council, a nonprofit group that promotes sustainable building, argued in council hearings that the city’s grid could handle the increase, partly because its biggest strains come in summer, from air conditioning. The shift to electric heating actually has the potential to reduce demand in summers, the groups’ analysts argued, because many builders are expected to turn to heat pumps, which are already common in Europe, and which both heat and cool spaces and use less energy than air conditioners.

“To my mind, this new law would be the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel industry in America’s biggest city and a world capital,” says Pete Sikora, the climate director of New York Communities for Change, which is part of a coalition of community and environmental groups whose yearlong campaign of street protests and rallies helped bring council members on board. "New York City is responsible for 5% of gas burned in buildings nationwide, which is huge. As the world fails to seriously confront the crisis, N.Y.C. will take a major leap forward.”

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