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NYC Law Aims to Cut Building Greenhouse Gas Emissions
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Facility managers and building owners should have more than a passing interest in New York City’s push to slash carbon emissions, requiring an ambitious effort to retrofit existing buildings. The largest city in the United States has ushered in a new era of sustainability, and other municipalities across the nation are likely to follow suit.
Passed by the New York City Council and enacted into law in April 2019, “The Climate Mobilization Act” – a key part of achieving NYC’s ambitious “80x50” goal – is a package of bills designed to curb carbon emissions in the city 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. As the legislation takes hold, and new questions arise about the future of design and building management, it’s imperative for building owners and developers to look for forward-thinking and sophisticated solutions.
A key requirement is that existing buildings over 25,000 square feet must comply with greenhouse gas emission targets determined by New York City Department of Buildings occupancy groups.
Passed into law as Local Law 97, the measure has undergone several revisions since its introduction in 2018 as Intro 1253, and continues to be modified with regularity. It includes some notable changes impacting building owners, facility managers, and the design community. The law:
• Defines the role and responsibilities of the newly assigned Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance. The appointed director must be a registered design professional.
• Specifies building emission intensity limits (tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per square foot per year) per the New York City Department of Buildings occupancy group, rather than bundling groups together, to be more representative of how buildings actually use energy.
• Excludes “rent-regulated accommodations” from established building emission limits similar to building occupancy group R-2, yet requires an advisory board to provide recommendations to meet key goals.
• Postpones the first compliance period — originally slated for 2022 to 2024 — with emission intensity limits matching this timeline, permitting building owners and facility managers more time to strategize capital planning.
• Prescribes greenhouse gas coefficients of energy consumption per fuel type for calendar years 2024-29 and acknowledges greenhouse-gas coefficients should be re-evaluated and refined by 2023 for future compliance years, thus helping improve accuracy of the electric grid’s contribution in the future when additional renewables are part of electric production. (The greenhouse gas coefficient is the conversion spelled out in the bill that identifies the total greenhouse gas impact of each fuel source used — electric, natural gas, fuel oil, etc.)
• Significantly lowers the greenhouse gas coefficient of ConEd steam relative to national averages, to represent the nature of steam production.
• Establishes building emission intensity limits for compliance years 2030-34.
• Authorizes deductions for compliance years 2024-29, most notably allowing from 10 percent initially, up to 100 percent for accepted renewable-energy credits as long as they are associated with power directly deliverable into the Zone J load zone (power supplied directly to the New York City grid). Allows deductions for compliance years 2024-29 associated with clean distributed energy resources, allowing electric demand reductions to be part of the plan as they still play a vital role in carbon reduction given the current electric grid system.
• Modifies the building emission intensity limit for non-profit hospitals and healthcare facilities, reducing the limit by up to 15 percent for compliance years 2024-29 and 30 percent for compliance years 2030-34.
The newly established Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance within the Department of Buildings, the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, and an appointed advisory board will evaluate and present findings associated with the following that will further shape the discussion around building infrastructure upgrades:
• Greenhouse gas coefficients for sources not provided from a local utility, such as cogeneration plants, and refinements for all coefficients for calendar years 2030 and beyond.
• Permitted deductions for annual building emissions limits related to purchase of renewable energy credits, greenhouse-gas offsets, or implementation of clean distributed energy resources.
• Carbon trading study that could develop a marketplace for credit trading, pricing mechanisms, and credit verification.
On June 26, 2019, the New York City Council passed technical amendments to the law which were enacted on July 27. In addition to minor modifications, the Urban Green Council has cited four changes of note:
• Clarification that the Department of Buildings can revise 2030 standards by rule, including using a different metric.
• Carbon emissions from electricity can now be based on time of use.
• Credits for greenhouse gas offsets and energy storage will extend to later compliance periods.
• Some previously exempt affordable housing must now comply with the prescriptive path of low-cost energy savings measures.
The new greenhouse gas emissions limits will transform the way building owners, facility managers, engineers, energy experts, and other architecture, engineering and construction professionals approach projects, and it is essential to embrace these future challenges and opportunities.
One of the biggest changes will be the likely push toward “electrification.” The emission factors outlined in New York City’s law for each fuel source (electric, natural gas, fuel oil and steam) show electric as the highest emitter per Btu. While outdated and crude sources of electric heat (electric resistance heating) are not an improvement, electric heat-pump heating technology is more carbon efficient. Evaluating electric options will be key; so will considering current and potential utility rates and emissions contributions.
New York State has set ambitious targets for future renewable energy on the grid that serves New York City. If and when these targets are met and the grid gets ‘cleaner,’ with electricity production from renewables increasing, this will have an impact on the corresponding greenhouse gas conversions and emissions limits set forth in the bill.
Although building owners and facility managers can proactively adapt to New York City’s 80×50 regulations, it’s imperative to recognize what’s out of their control. Buildings generally use energy because people use energy. Building occupants will be central to realizing savings. Behavioral changes and tools that provide communication about energy consumption in real-time are critical. Platforms presenting energy consumption transparently to building stakeholders are a must.
While New York City’s 80x50 goal represents a bold measure impacting the real estate market, it is part of a larger national conversation about sustainability. From coast to coast, and all points in between, local officials and municipalities are taking steps to reduce emissions. Through stricter laws, revamped transit, and the use of technology, our landscape continues to be transformed.
Jeffrey (Jeff) Rios (JRios@akfgroup.com), PE, LEED AP, is a partner, AKF Group. He specializes in increasing energy efficiency within new and existing buildings. Charlie Marino (CMarino@akfgroup.com), CEA, LEED AP O+M, is co-leader of AKF’s Energy + Performance team. He is active in the NYC Mayor’s Office 80x50 technical working groups as co-chair the planning committee.