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NYC to Mandate Energy Efficiency Upgrades; Penalties of $2 per Foot for Non-Compliance

  • September 19, 2017

Last Thursday, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new mandates to force building owners to implement retrofits and energy efficiency upgrades by 2030, or face annual penalties up to $2 per foot, the first such mandate in the country.  Under the proposal, which needs city council approval, more than 14,000 buildings larger than 25,000 square feet would need to comply with new energy efficiency targets.  Details such as how these targets would be defined, if they would vary based on building use (e.g. multifamily vs. office vs. college/university), and how reporting would be handled are yet to be seen because the bill not has not yet been written or introduced (cart before the horse?).  Read on for more info on the announcement, what industry groups such as REBNY have to say, and some things that should be considered while crafting this legislation to achieve emission reduction goals both in NYC and across major cities in the US.

More (Bigger) Sticks, Less Carrots – Why Mandate Energy Efficiency Improvements?

In 2007, Mayor Bloomberg announced the Greener Greater Buildings Plan (GGBP) to reduce emissions 30% by 2030.  As part of GGBP, Local Law 84 established energy reporting requirements for buildings over 50,000 square feet (creating a model for almost all major US cities to follow – threshold lowered to 25,000 ft2 in 2018), while Local Law 87 established energy auditing and retro-commissioning measures.  While there are minor financial penalties for non-compliance with these reporting laws, there are no requirements to act on any of the reports submitted to the city.  In other words, so long as you complete the reports, it doesn’t matter if you’re the worst building in the city according to LL84 or if there are 100 immediate payback energy conservation measures identified in your LL87 report.  You are not compelled to do anything further.

In 2014, Mayor de Blasio made the city’s emission reduction goals more aggressive and announced his “80×50” plan to reduce emissions 80% from 2005 levels by 2050.  His latest announcement seems to be adding teeth to the goals of Local Laws 84 and 87 in order to speed up these reductions, with penalties up to $2 per foot per year for exceeding emissions targets.  According to CleanTechnica, “failure to comply will also impact a building’s ability to receive future permits for major renovations”.

REBNY, the Urban Green Council, 32BJ SEIU, and AIA NY Chapter agree that NYC needs to “maintain its national leadership on climate change by upgrading its buildings, training its workforce and streamlining energy efficiency”, according to their 2017 Mayoral Campaign Green Building Roadmap.  However, bigger sticks from Mayor de Blasio, without proper consideration given to creating the targets and implementing the rules, are probably not be the best way to achieve these goals.

What’s REBNY Saying About It?

“The city’s goals could inadvertently promote buildings that use less overall energy without regard to how the energy is used,” said John Banks, president of REBNY. “A trading floor with many terminals and employees might not meet targets, but an empty windowless building used for storage would meet the target…The manner in which these goals are pursued will determine whether or not the future of our city is comprised of mini-storage facilities and buildings without windows or 21st-century energy-efficient buildings that yield good jobs and affordable housing.”

Considerations for Crafting Legislation

Efficiency targets should not be based (at least not exclusively) on use per square foot metrics.  The energy consumed by a building is impacted by the function it serves, hours of operation, and the number of occupants – not just its gross size. “Fossil fuel use” targets as described in the announcement should consider these various characteristics, rather than setting a one size fits all approach and relying exclusively on a simple use per foot metric.  Based on recent proposals (1629, 1632) from members of City Council, simple EUI (use/ft2) is still considered and proposed as the main benchmark across the city’s energy laws.   Simple EUI is an imperfect measurement for enforcing energy efficiency mandates and penalizing those who don’t comply.

EnergyWatch will provide additional updates and review once legislation is actually written and proposed by City Council.