Question of the Month: How has the discussion surrounding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for NYC buildings evolved? - by Charlie Marino

March 19, 2019 - Design / Build
Charlie Marino, AKF

Over the past year and half there has been a considerable amount of focus on a proposed bill set to cap carbon emissions in NYC buildings. Originally presented as New York City Local Law Introduction No. 1729 (Int. No. 1729), it focused only on fossil fuels consumed at the building site. The current iteration of the bill, Int. No. 1253, requires an inventory of all energy sources consumed on site and their carbon emission equivalent on an annual basis starting in 2022 (regardless of how carbon intensive the electric grid may be at that point in time). The proposed bill has caught many off guard, but others have seen this in the making for a long time. 

In 2005, Local Law 86 (LL86) was enacted, New York City’s first ordinance requiring LEED certification rating levels for city-owned buildings or buildings receiving over $10 million from city funds. Shortly thereafter, the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability was created by the Bloomberg administration in 2006. Now referred to as the mayor’s Office of Sustainability, it spearheads important working groups and legislation support. 

Within a year, the office released PlaNYC, instituting the 30x30 goal (i.e., 30% reductions in citywide carbon emissions by 2030, against a 2005 baseline). The first Carbon Challenge followed, focusing on the higher education community to encourage large energy consumers to voluntarily commit to carbon reductions (50% by 2025). In 2008, the first official climate change projections were released for New York City, helping reinforce the necessity of having a focused conversation for both public and private buildings in order to accomplish the 30x30 commitment. 

The Greener, Greater Building Plan was enacted by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability in 2009, enforcing the two most significant pieces of legislation to date for the private building community. Local Law 84 (LL84) established requirements to benchmark energy consumption for all buildings over 50,000 s/f using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager program. This allowed public data disclosure related to associated site and source Energy Use Intensity (EUI) and greenhouse gas emission data for approximately 2,800 buildings. While those 2,800 buildings are only 2% of the city’s one million buildings, they represented nearly 45% of building energy consumption at the time.

Additionally, Local Law 87 (LL87) requires the same building group to conduct an energy audit and retro-commissioning project on a 10-year cycle, with a submission date related to its tax block number. These laws were trailblazing legislation, often being used as a role model for other cities in the United States and beyond. For the five years that followed the adoption of LL87, the mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Department of Buildings collected actual building performance data, providing a means for the city to gain a more granular understanding of the major energy consumers in buildings, across all market sectors.

In 2014, the DeBlasio administration released One City Built to Last, therein creating the 80x50 goal that we are still pushing towards today (80% carbon emission reductions by 2050 against the original 2005 baseline). This commitment came in response to the projections made by the United Nations regarding necessary improvements to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. To help realize these goals, the mayor’s Office of Sustainability established the Technical Working Group composed of numerous organizations, private building owners, and other stakeholders who volunteer their time to instituting potential pathways to accomplish this goal. 

I had the privilege to chair the working group’s Existing Commercial Building committee. We were able to utilize LL84 and LL87 data to assess which measures could have the largest impact to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reductions while contemplating the associated cost and logistics of implementation. Although the effort did not provide a silver bullet for reducing carbon emissions, it outlined specific problem areas where achieving the 80x50 goal proved most challenging. It was also one of the earliest public discussions on the idea of electrification, the notion of all buildings using electricity generated by renewable energy sources for all their needs to drastically reduce building GHG emissions.

All that has led to today—what we understand to be weeks away from our country’s most aggressive legislation to tackle carbon emissions. Will this just be another milestone for the city’s plan to accomplish the 80x50 goal, with more legislation/regulations to come? Or will this be the big legislative move needed to realize the ambitious goals of 80x50?

Charlie Marino, CEA, LEED AP O+M is the director of energy services at AKF Group, New York, N.Y.

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