New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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For Co-ops and Condos, Slow Greening of the Grid Is a Red Flag

New York City

Local Law 97, building carbon emissions, renewable energy, Indian Point nuclear power plant, co-op and condo boards.

New York City's electric grid has gotten dirtier — not greener — since the Indian Point nuclear power plant closed last year.

June 13, 2022

Co-op and condo boards keep hearing that electrifying their buildings — and getting rid of fossil fuels — will be the key to complying with the carbon emission caps that start in 2024 under Local Law 97. Buildings larger than 25,000 square feet, including co-ops and condominiums, that do not meet the caps will face stiff fines.

Building managers and engineers gathered recently to express concerns that 90% of New York City's electric grid is still powered by fossil fuels, Crain's reports, and that it's not getting green enough fast enough to make it possible for them to comply with Local Law 97. There is some encouraging news. The state recently approved a massive hydroelectric power hookup from Canada, windmills are being constructed off Long Island, and the city is getting ready to import electricity from upstate solar farms. Even so, the city's grid actually got dirtier when the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County closed last year, forcing the city to rely on even more fossil fuels.

“The problem is electrification results in lower carbon emissions only if the underlying grid is relatively green," says Alex Heil, who stepped down recently as vice president of research at the independent Citizens Budget Commission. "Especially for the downstate economy, that’s not exactly the case. If the state takes a long time to catch up, then that should not necessarily be to the disadvantage of property owners.” 

Under the state's 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act the state is mandated to draw at least 70% of its power from renewables by 2030, on a path toward a completely decarbonized grid by 2040.

Carl Ian Graham, deputy director of emissions at the city's Department of Buildings, said during the session with building managers and engineers  that the city won’t meet its goals by “collecting penalties.” The department plans to release new guidance on how boards can comply with the law “sooner rather than later,” he said.

But Graham stresses that some property owners, including co-op and condo boards, should expect to eat the costs of retrofits. “Understand that investments are going to be required — and not every investment is necessarily going to have payback,” he says. “The question I would challenge people with is: What’s the alternative? If we don’t do this, what happens to the place we live in?”

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