NYC Mayor’s Office is on a mission to retrofit
By Juliana Ennes
NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability adopted ambitious environmental goals to make sure the city is aligned with the United Nations 2015 Paris Agreement. The route to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – a goal established by their Roadmap to 80X50 – puts the city in a leading role.
The Mayor’s Office recognizes that it will need to implement more requirements since most efforts currently in place are not mandatory. New York City’s Roadmap 80X50 foresees significant reductions in emissions produced by the city’s energy supplies, transportation, solid waste, and buildings. Buildings are especially important because they are responsible for 68% of NYC’s GHG emissions. Since 90% of the existing buildings will still be here by 2050, energy efficiency and retrofit projects became an essential part of the sustainability plan.
According to Jenna Tatum, a Senior Policy Advisor in NYC’s Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the focus on buildings is beneficial not only for the environment but also for the affordability crisis currently in place. Lower energy consumption leads to financial savings, which helps to counterbalance utility costs, with a 20% rise since 2002, and fuel costs, that doubled in the same period.
Not only is the 80X50 plan achievable, despite the challenges of cost and financing models or time and ability to implement the energy efficiency projects, Jenna communicated that information sharing is a crucial part of the challenges to overcome, because the population is usually unable to quantify its usage and waste of energy. “Energy is an invisible resource,” hence the public offer of educational programs and the necessary support to achieve a higher level of energy efficiency.
Jenna Tatum presented New York City’s Roadmap 80×50 at the NYEW April 2017 Meetup to a room full of energy experts at the Urban Future Lab.
How can we go from policy to action?
In New York City, our commitment to “80X50” is part of the Mayor’s OneNYC plan to make the city more just, resilient and sustainable. In city government, we have a lot of tools to turn these policy goals into action. In our programs, we start often working with early adopters and leaders. In our NYC Carbon Challenge program, we ensure that we have real buildings and real people testing out the solutions to achieve significant GHG reductions — and often significant cost-savings as a result.
In addition to working with leaders, we have to broaden those practices that we’ve learned. That’s why we have the NYC Retrofit Accelerator. It’s about working with the leaders that need a little help to invest in energy efficiency and finding qualified contractors and picking the right projects for the building. We also help them to do capital planning for the long term.
Once we have these programs in place, we really help the market move, that’s when we explore increasing the requirements. I think that in the longer term we’ll have to look into more requirements. But hopefully, by that point, our program will have laid the groundwork for that.
Are the buildings reaching out to the city, or is the Mayor’s Office proactive in pursuing those buildings?
Absolutely. We are proactive. Especially with the Retrofit Accelerator, we don’t really rely on people coming to us as much as we go out and give people a call. The Retrofit Accelerator staff works really closely with property management companies that manage large portfolios of buildings. They also work very closely with co-ops and condos. A lot of our intake also comes from word of mouth. If the Retrofit Accelerator team delivers a good service in a building, a co-op board member of that building talks to the next board member and that’s how we can increase the impact.
What are the three main challenges to reach the 80X50 goals?
I think that time and capacity are real challenges for all parties. Implementing a retrofit project is a lot of work. For many building owners, decision makers, co-op and condo board members, even if they want to do something, it’s a lot of time and effort, and that in itself is a barrier.
Cost is a barrier, certainly, but there are underutilized resources to help address the cost issue. There are incentives available through Con Edison and NYSERDA, such as direct rebates to buildings that do these projects. There are financing resources available, but, again, using those resources takes time and effort and that comes to be a barrier. The issue is especially problematic in the affordable housing stock, which is typically operating on really thin margins.
Getting over the educational barrier also is a challenge. Energy is an invisible resource. People don’t realize how much their building might be wasting or what they can do about it. If people had better information, then they would be more empowered to access the resources and services available.
Juliana Ennes is a Marketing and Communications Coordinator Fellow at NYEW 2017. She has worked as a financial journalist for a decade, having extensively covered the energy sector. She holds an MS in Energy Policy and Environment from NYU and an MBA from FIA, Brazil.