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Inflation Reduction Act Can Help Co-ops and Condos Cut Carbon Emissions

New York City

Electric heat pumps, fossil-fuel boilers, electrification, green electric grid.

After switching to electric heat pumps, an Upper West Side co-op has outside generator units that connect to a smaller unit inside each apartment (photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio).

Sept. 16, 2022

Many New York City co-op and condo boards are scrambling to find money to pay for retrofits that will allow them to cut their buildings' carbon emission enough to comply with the Climate Mobilization Act — and avoid fines that begin in 2024. They might consider looking into the Inflation Reduction Act.

The climate law, signed in August by President Biden, offers up to $8,000 in tax rebates for property owners to purchase electric heat pumps and make energy-efficiency improvements, such as better insulation and windows, The New York Times reports. Many buildings will need to upgrade their electric panels in order to fully electrify. There are rebates for that, too. The bill also allocates $200 million to train workers who can install new electric appliances and insulate homes.

Heat pumps work by expelling warm air out of buildings when it’s hot outside and pulling warm air into buildings when it’s cold out. Proponents of heat pumps contend that the technology has markedly improved in recent years, and the evidence backs up the claims. In the last decade or so, a new generation of heat pumps has become so efficient that they can pull useful heat energy out of air as cold as 13 degrees below zero, or even colder. (There is heat energy in the air all the way down to absolute zero, which is roughly 450 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, but it becomes more and difficult to harvest that energy as the temperature drops.) Today, some of the coldest parts of the world have some of the highest penetration of electric heat pumps.

But as buildings electrify, along with cars and buses, other challenges loom. One is cleaning up the electrical grid so that it burns less fossil fuel. Utilities will also need to produce much more electricity as demand grows. At the moment, New York City’s 24 power plants run mostly on methane gas and fuel oil, spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and polluting the air nearby. New York City aspires to have what it calls a fully “clean energy” electricity grid by 2040. That challenge was made even stiffer last year when the Indian Point nuclear power plant was shuttered.

A few cities, such as Ithaca, N.Y., and Berkeley, Calif., have passed laws requiring all buildings, new and old, to get rid of all oil and gas in the coming years, whether for heating or cooking. Dozens of cities across the United States, including New York, have also passed laws that prohibit gas hookups in new buildings.

Donnel Baird is the founder of a Brooklyn-based company called Bloc Power that's focused on helping buildings make the switch from fossil fuel-fired boilers to electric heat pumps. The company is also training 1,000 workers from low-income neighborhoods. For Baird, this city is facing a pair of momentous questions. “New York is a test case of can you turn buildings into Teslas and can you use a municipal mandate to do it?” he says. “Those are the two real strategic questions.”

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