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NYC’s Climate Advisory Board takes up its position as Local Law 97 nears implementation

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by Yoav Aziz, from Unsplash

Last fall, we discussed some of the new rules and regulations that will come into effect this year as a result of Local Law 97, which represents the most ambitious attempt yet by NYC lawmakers to combat climate change in a pair of blogs (November 21 and December 2). The law focuses on buildings and real estate because the city’s built environment accounts for just over 70 percent of emissions, much of it due to inefficient heating and cooling systems. While everything covered in our previous blogs remains pertinent for curious readers, the turn of the new year and the impending implementation of the law in May warranted an update on developments related to the legislation.

Most notably, the city appointed its 15-member Climate Advisory Board today. Its members include engineers, representatives from business and utilities, as well as environmental activists. As the law takes effect, this body will have significant oversight as well as regulatory power, especially in determining the size and scope of fines for noncompliant buildings. The group will also be tasked with compiling a comprehensive report to be delivered to the mayor by the beginning of 2023, which will outline the efficacy of the new legislation as well how the city should move forward to achieve its target of reducing NYC emissions 40 percent by 2030. [1]

Recent coverage of the law in other publications suggests there will be many options for building owners to comply with the targets set. The most straightforward is investing in green retrofits, as Tony Malkin (a member of the Climate Advisory Board) did with the Empire State Realty Trust. The Empire State building is now one of the most energy efficient skyscrapers in the city, and Malkin says the $13.4 million retrofit has already resulted in $4.4 million in savings over the first three years due to the steep fall in energy expenditures to heat and cool the iconic structure. Architects and developers are also increasingly looking to develop passive house constructions, a design model of German origin that is virtually airtight and energy neutral. However, even if more new buildings use this expensive but energy efficient design, it does little to remedy the stock of older buildings. Retrofitting will undoubtedly be a more important part of compliance with the law because NYC’s building stock across the boroughs is quite old by US standards, with hundreds of thousands of buildings dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [2]

With penalties for noncompliance running up to $268/ton of CO2, total fines for large, inefficient buildings could easily run over a million dollars. We should note that NYC authorized PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing for energy upgrades under Local Law 96, which creates a special loan program for energy saving projects, such as retrofits. While the degree of enforcement of the law remains to be seen, there are other possible options to help buildings comply. These include purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs), which are defined strictly as renewable power transmitted directly into NYC. This is one for the future, however, since the first such projects are only set to come online in 2024. Alternatively, buildings may purchase greenhouse gas offsets (such as paying for tress to be planted in other parts of New York or elsewhere)—but these offsets may only be used for up to 10 percent of a building’s annual emissions limit, so they do not represent a one-stop solution to a building with high emissions. [3]

With the ambitious legislation coming into effect soon, it will be fascinating to see how the city mobilizes (or not) to curb emissions. As with any far-reaching piece of legislation, it is likely there will be unforeseen consequences with regards to practical implementation.

[1] (January 2020) 15-member NYC Climate Advisory Board appointed from NY Real Estate Journal https://nyrej.com/15-member-nyc-climate-advisory-board-appointed Accessed January 21 2020

[2] Nonko, E. (January 2020) NYC buildings prepare to drastically reduce emissions to avoid penalties from NY Post https://nypost.com/2020/01/16/nyc-buildings-prepare-to-drastically-reduce-emissions-to-avoid-penalties/ Accessed January 21 2020

[3] Rosta, P. (January 2020) Navigating NYC’s Landmark Energy Law from Commercial Property Executive https://www.cpexecutive.com/post/navigating-nycs-landmark-energy-law/ Accessed January 21 2020

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