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Mayor de Blasio Unveils Building Retrofit Proposal

Last week, Mayor de Blasio announced a plan to mandate energy retrofits for privately owned buildings. Though the plan’s release made quite a splash, this proposal was a long time coming. In September 2014, Mayor de Blasio committed New York to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 in order for NYC to do its part in helping to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

Though progress is being made in implementing the City’s Roadmap to 80 x 50, there is one large challenge standing in the way in the form of the city’s more than one million buildings, which cover more than five billion square feet. Collectively these buildings are responsible for 68% of citywide emissions. In particular, fossil fuels burned for building heat and hot water make up 42% of the citywide total.

There have been huge advances in energy efficiency for new buildings yet much of New York’s building stock is quite old and will still be standing in 2050. The Mayor’s technical working group on building efficiency recommended mandates if the private sector did not move quickly enough on retrofits. At a speech in front of the United Nations in April of 2016, Mayor de Blasio promised to do just that. Now we finally have a chance to evaluate some of the specifics and further a dialogue before passing a consensus package.

There are many differing opinions on the City’s proposed mandates but one thing is clear: if something resembling this package becomes law, New York would be the first city in the country to issue such a policy. The Mayor is arguing that the time to act is now on what amounts to a rather ambitious policy, even though one group thinks it does not go far enough, since the Trump Administration has begun the process of pulling out of the Paris Accords and is doing little to mitigate the effects of climate change, even in the wake of two devastating storms.

The proposed mandates on fossil fuel caps will apply to all buildings over 25,000 square feet, and will trigger replacement of fossil fuel equipment and efficiency upgrades in the worst-performing 14,500 buildings. Building owners will be required to make improvements to boilers, heat distribution and hot water heaters in their next maintenance and repair cycle over the next twelve years, or seventeen years for affordable housing.┬áThe Mayor’s office says the new targets will reduce total citywide greenhouse emissions 7 percent by 2035, equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the road.

The legislation will authorize Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing to provide low interest loans with long terms that allow property owners to pay for energy efficiency investments through their property tax bill. The City will also continue to provide technical support and sharing of best practices through its NYC Retrofit Accelerator program.

When a proposed policy has the potential to reshape an entire sector and has never been implemented on such a large scale, detractors are to be expected. Not surprisingly, the chorus of those seeking to air their concerns was quite vocal, including the Real Estate Board of New York, affordable housing advocates, some environmental groups, and also the City Council.

The next step in the process is for these bills to be introduced to the Council and subjected to rigorous debate at a City Council hearing. The Council also has some of its own ideas and undoubtedly will be a significant role in shaping the final version of the bill.

NYLCV will certainly be among those testifying when the proposal comes up for a hearing. We strongly support the goals of the proposed mandates and want to see a comprehensive plan on building efficiency implemented sooner rather than later. At the same time, we want to get it right. At our NYLCV Education Fund series on “Getting NYC to 80 x 50,” we focused our forum on the buildings sector on this very question. Though the forum highlighted many complexities of this problem, it also offered many ideas. As we put together our formal response, the findings of our forum in June will color our recommendations. Make sure to take a look at the background paper and a recap of the forum for additional context on the issue.