The NYC Urban Green Council Blueprint for Efficiency, Part 2

Michael Tobias
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  • The NYC Urban Green Council Blueprint for Efficiency, Part 2

    The NYC Urban Green Council is a chapter of the US Green Building Council, and in August 2018 they published their Blueprint for Efficiency, a document with 21 recommendations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New York City buildings.

    We covered the first 10 recommendations in a previous article, and now we will discuss the other 11. It is important to note these are not competing measures, but rather complementary approaches that can be deployed together to achieve the 80x50 goal (cutting NYC emissions by 80% with respect to 2005, by the year 2050).

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    11) Energy Efficiency Trading Program for Building Owners

    Since each building is unique, the cost of achieving a certain efficiency target varies for each property. Just like renewable energy credits have helped states achieve clean energy targets, it would be possible to create energy efficiency credits that are traded among building owners.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Creating an energy efficiency trading program where property owners get credits for exceeding performance requirements. These credits can then be sold to other building owners who have not met their respective targets.

    In other words, extra savings from one building can be used to cover deficits in another property. Affordable housing and nonprofit buildings can get extra credits for efficiency gains, considering they have limited funding for major energy efficiency measures.

    12) Flexibility to Buy Green Power as an Alternative to Efficiency

    Some buildings have limitations that make a 20% energy savings target very difficult to achieve before 2030. Financing cycles and tenant leases may limit the ability to afford building upgrades, and equipment reaching the end of its service life can consume capital that would otherwise be used for energy efficiency. Since the goal of the 80x50 program is cutting down emissions, it makes sense to allow green power purchases as an alternative to energy efficiency when building owners have limited options.

    Even when green power is allowed, efforts should focus on energy efficiency first. Serving inefficient buildings with green power is not the best approach, since it involves producing more solar panels, wind turbines and similar equipment.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Allowing green power as an alternative to energy efficiency measures, in cases where the 2030 energy savings target is not feasible. However, the clean energy sources must be local and verifiable. There must also be a cap on the amount of clean power that replaces mandatory energy efficiency, and a duration limit to ensure that energy efficiency measures are deployed eventually.

    13) Working Towards Electrification

    The 80x50 emissions reduction goal requires many complementary efforts achieving synergy. Deployed together, the three following strategies can be highly effective:

    • Buildings must reduce energy demands through efficiency. The simplest way to reduce emissions is by consuming less energy in the first place, since even renewable sources have an environmental impact from manufacturing and construction.
    • Converting space heating and hot water systems from fossil fuels to electricity. Electric heat pumps are recommended due to their high efficiency, but the high cost of the technology limits availability.
    • Greening the electricity grid. Electrification of heating systems removes emissions locally, but off-site emissions are only avoided with clean generation.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Building electrification is necessary to achieve the ambitious emissions reduction goal established by New York City (80x50). However, heat pumps are still expensive, and the grid is not equipped to deal with a large demand peak from electrical heating systems. Incentives have already been successful driving the adoption of LED lighting and solar power, and they could also drive building electrification.

    14) Limit the Efficiency Credits Available with Cogeneration

    Cogeneration plants create electricity from natural gas and recover exhaust heat that is normally wasted. However, cogeneration can be deceiving in terms of environmental benefit:

    • When the local grid uses highly polluting sources such as coal and fuel oil, cogeneration plants are beneficial because they achieve a net reduction of emissions.  
    • However, if a power grid is already clean, on-site gas combustion increases the net emissions from a building.

    Cogeneration should be credited when it achieves an emissions reduction with respect to the local power supply,  but remembering that building efficiency is the main goal.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Restricting the amount of new cogeneration capacity, while creating rules that require metering and a detailed calculation of efficiency credits.

    • If a fossil fuel limit is applied on buildings, natural gas burned by cogeneration plants should not count if the local grid is more polluting.
    • However, if renewable sources start dominating the grid, the exemption no longer applies and the gas burned by cogeneration plants counts towards the emissions limit.

    15) Rewards for Peak Demand Savings

    The power grid can only tolerate a small amount of hours of maximum demand each year. Electricity demand peaks normally occur during summer, due to the cumulative load of air conditioning systems. Grid demand peaks are supplied with the least efficient power plants, and each kilowatt-hour consumed at this time has a greater carbon footprint and air pollution impact.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Encourage demand response (DR), which is when consumers reduce electricity consumption during periods of high demand. This can be in response to payment programs, time-based electricity rates, or other financial incentives.

    16) Simplify Efficiency with Expanded Services

    The proposed energy efficiency policies will impact approximately 50,000 properties, and most building owners are not experts in energy efficiency measures. Therefore, they will need technical assistance and financing to achieve a 20% energy reduction successfully, especially small nonprofit organizations and the affordable housing sector.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Scaling up the NYC Retrofit Accelerator, which already provides building owners with free assistance for retrofits. Priority should be given to nonprofit organizations and smaller buildings.

    Strategies should focus on reducing tenant energy use, considering non-energy benefits when directing city resources. NYC should foster action in the private sector by demonstrating strategies and measures with proven effectiveness.

    17) Enhanced Financing Programs

    To achieve 20% energy savings by 2030, many building owners depend on financial assistance. However, the traditional lending process is not always suitable for efficiency financing. The programs that provide loans for energy retrofits should be customized according to client needs.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Adopting Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, an approach that has been highly successful in California. PACE is a financing mechanism for energy efficiency improvements on private property:

    • Building owners get low-interest loans to finance energy efficiency upgrades, such as new boilers.
    • The loan is paid through an increase in property taxes.

    The Urban Green Council also recommends a revision of underwriting rules, to include energy efficiency financing with traditional mechanisms while promoting new financing options.

    18) Aligning Energy Use with Electricity and Gas Bills

    People tend to waste things when they don’t pay for them directly. Tenants often pay for public services through rent, and landlords increase rent according to the building’s total utility bills. The main limitation of this approach is that all tenants pay equally, creating no incentive to save gas or electricity - tenants who are energy-efficient end up subsidizing those who are not.

    The solution for this issue is simple: submetering and billing tenants individually based on their gas and electricity usage, which ensures everyone pays a fair share of total energy bills. However, the regulatory process is complex and time-consuming.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Modern metering technologies allow direct billing of electricity, steam, hot and cold water, and natural gas. Building owners should implement submetering, while NYC reviews and simplifies the corresponding regulations.

    19) Shortening the NYC Heating Season

    Currently, the NYC heating season is from October 1 to May 31. Space heating systems must operate continuously for this entire period, since building owners are required by law to keep a minimum indoor temperature. However, this only leaves four months for upgrades and reparations.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Shortening the heating season by one month, ending on April 30 instead of May 31. This would give property owners more time to upgrade their space heating systems and to provide effective maintenance.

    20) Facilitate Access for Retrofits

    Energy efficiency measures require landlord access to residential and commercial spaces, since common areas only represent a small fraction of building energy use. However, tenant privacy must also be considered, and access to rented spaces should cause the lowest disruption possible.

    However, energy upgrades for tenant spaces are unavoidable. They represent a very high portion of the total NYC floor space, and upgrading them is necessary to reach the 80x50 emissions reduction target.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: New York City must develop a framework to facilitate access to tenant spaces for energy upgrades, while protecting tenant privacy. A public hearing with the interested parties is recommended as a first step to establish a dialogue. Once an agreement is reached, NYC must publish an official note to be distributed by landlords among their tenants - setting the rules for energy efficiency upgrades and access to tenant spaces.

    21) Lower the Burden of Facade Inspections Under Local Law 11

    Local Law 11, also known as the Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP), requires inspections and repair of building facades every 5 years. Some requirements of this law are considered extremely demanding, and compliance comes with a high price for building owners. By simplifying LL11 requirements, funds that would otherwise be spent on compliance are freed up for energy efficiency measures.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: New York City should review the current requirements of the FISP to lower the cost of facade inspections, such as reducing the frequency of inspections for buildings with an excellent record. The current law mandates the use of scaffolding for direct inspection by a qualified professional, but the requirement could be modified to allow the use of drones or cameras.


    Energy efficiency upgrades are cost-effective regardless of legal requirements, but it is very important to proceed with professional assistance. Each building is unique, and energy efficiency measures that are viable in one property could have little effect in another building. By prioritizing building upgrades with a swift payback period and a high return on investment, landlords can cut their energy use by 20% at the lowest possible cost.


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