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NYC Green Retrofit Impact: More Questions Than Answers For BCONE

12 May 2020 10:32 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Steve Dwyer and Connor A. Jaffe*

It’s been one year (May 2019), since the New York City Council ratified what is known as “local law 97,” seen as the centerpiece of the city’s Climate Mobilization Act (CMA). One overarching and lofty goal is reducing citywide carbon emissions 40% by 2030 and a whopping 80% by 2050. 

It will be interesting to see at what level of fallout has occurred -- and will -- during the ensuing years. 

Some background: LL 97 recognizes both that the city’s buildings are the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for nearly 70% of total citywide emissions in 2014, and that the technology and the overall affinity exists to enable the city to reach this ambitious emissions reduction targets. 

Drilling down further, LL 97 requires buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to meet strict greenhouse gas emissions limits starting in 2024, and is expected to reduce cumulative emissions from large buildings at least 40% citywide by 2030 through building retrofits. In addition, the CMA establishes a new Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program to enable retrofits through long-term financing, and requires the installation of solar PV and green roofs on new buildings and major renovations.

So what does it all spell for the BCONE and NYC Brownfield Partnership? We know that because many brownfield redevelopers and their constituents (environmental remediation consultants, architects, etc.) are hard wired to advocate for and then execute sustainable building construction—it’s in their DNA—there’s a good chance our membership owns or holds stakes in buildings that A.) might already be fully in energy-efficiency compliance or B.) are facing minor capital expenditures to fully comply to LL 97. 

(It’s hard to say without a consensus in place; thus, it would be ideal for BCONE to build that consensus about what’s at stake for members, all based on feedback to the organization over the subsequent months. This isn’t a news theme that’s going away.)    

The motivators driving LL 97 are sound. The law components focus on the city’s largest buildings to promote energy efficiency, beneficial electrification and renewable energy while creating new, good-paying jobs. It also discourages continued reliance on polluting fossil fuels, cuts down on harmful air pollution that causes respiratory illnesses, and saves building owners money over time by lowering operating expenses.

Here are some points of discussion, questions and potential end results that could emanate from this law, ones that could be instructive to the coalition as you wade through the weeds: 

  • One potential outcome of the law is that if building owners find they can’t retrofit buildings because it will break the bank, will this result in building foreclosures?  The razing of older structures in Manhattan and the other boroughs? What percent of the high-rise portfolio falls within this designation? 
  •  For projects that had been/are in progress—and the COVID-19 health pandemic is now another profound X factor to add to the mix on top of everything else—how much is this law affecting a developer’s building construction blueprints? What is the additional role of brownfield architects to modify project specs? This factor is particularly impactful for brownfield projects in NYC that had already begun groundbreaking in, say, 2017 or ’18—and now must make serious adaptations to building function and design once they learned of LL 97 last spring. 
  • What additional costs does a NYC developer face in having to adhere to the law, reflected in the in-progress projects? Did many developers already prepare for this law in advance, perhaps reading the tea leaves? And if they did, has it served them well? 

Assistance Is Available   

Several energy efficiency design contractors are working to empower building managers to boost efficiency and cost-savings through an intelligent, intuitive building energy management platform.

Along those lines, the NYC Retrofit Accelerator (found on the web at www.retrofitaccelerator.cityofnewyork.us) offers free, personalized advisory services that streamline the process of making energy efficiency improvements to buildings. The retrofit accelerator can help owners develop an effective strategy to comply with the Climate Mobilization Act.

The Accelerator offers free help, simple fixes and compelling results, according to its website.  Retrofit experts can help building owners make building improvements, working one-on-one to understand each building owner’s needs and help draft long term capital plans to save energy. The NYCRA can also connect owners with qualified contractors to do the job; assist in finding cash incentives and financing to help underwrite upgrades; and train building staff to allow building to runs efficiently in a sustained fashion. 

Because we know it’s difficult to quantify to the letter what is exactly at stake for members regarding LL 97, feedback to the organization over the subsequent months is paramount. Please feel free to email the BCONE staff (sboyle@geiconsultants.com) or myself (steve.dwyer59@att.net) and let us know how this one-year-old law is impacting your business due to retrofit obligations needed to be performed.  

Highlights of Local Law 97

  • The Climate Mobilization Act is expected to: Reduce New York City’s overall emissions 10 percent by 2030
  • Requires buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to meet greenhouse gas emissions caps, beginning in 2024
  • Applies to 50,000 buildings across New York City (those larger than 25,000 square feet) across 22,000 properties
  • Sets emissions limits based on occupancy classifications of spaces within a building
  • Eliminate 6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the equivalent of taking
  • Remove 1.3 million cars from the road every year
  • Create 26,700 green jobs by 2030
  • Prevent 50 to 130 premature deaths annually by 2030 prevent 150 hospital visits annually by 2030.  

*Note on the Co-Author:  Mr. Jaffe is a senior studying Finance and Real Estate at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado-Boulder. BCONE’s Steve Dwyer assisted Mr. Jaffe with his independent research on LL97.


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