How NYC Can Grow its Green New Deal

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HOST INTRO: The biggest buildings in New York are also big polluters. About a third of New York’s greenhouse gas emissions come from just 4 percent of the city’s largest towers. Yesterday, the City Council passed a new package of bills requiring large buildings to slash their greenhouse gas emissions…by 40 percent in 10 years, and then 80 percent by 2050. But the package, known as the Climate Mobilization Act, doesn’t specify how these buildings could reach this goal. David Hsu teaches Urban and Environmental Planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


GREEN: David, hello.

HSU
Hi, Maggie

GREEN: Thanks so much for joining us today. So, as we saw yesterday, there’s still a lot of work to be done in New York City, especially from the legislation we saw passed and especially from these buildings that are over 25,000 square feet. So, say I own one of these buildings. What’s the first concrete step I could take to reduce emissions in my building?

HSU
The first step you can take, or you probably already are taking this last year, um, is the city’s been benchmarking its buildings for almost a decade, about six or seven years. And so benchmarking is simply where you simply record all the energy bills of your building. You enter them into a database or a website and then the city probably sends you a report already telling you not only how you’re building scores versus other buildings and also how much energy or your building is using compared to other buildings. Uh, but actually that’s a great source of actionable information.

GREEN: So what are some of those actions that you recommend?

HSU
Some of the things are already mandated. Retrocommissioning is a pretty much a no brainer according to the academic literature and studies that have been done.

GREEN: What is retrocommissioning?

HSU
Retrocommissioning is basically, uh, when the engineer comes into your building and tunes up the systems. And the reason why you do that, it’s because, you know, just like a car, if you operate it every day things get a little bit out of trim or out of alignment. And so you have a mechanic come into your building and tune up all the systems to make sure the car is operating as efficiently as it could, or in this case, a building.

GREEN: Gotcha. So if something isn’t operating as efficiently as possible, it might be using more energy than it needs to.

HSU
That’s right. And you can reduce your energy use by 20 to 25% on average for most buildings simply by having this retrocommissioning done more frequently.

GREEN: Another bill in this package would require all new developments to have solar panels or green roofs. A few other cities like Toronto and San Francisco, Portland, have already put this kind of law in place. What are some of the changes those cities have seen since these laws were put in place?

HSU
California is required new solar on all new residential construction, I think, in the state. I don’t know about San Francisco and Toronto in particular. You know, it’s a little bit hard to see, for me, how that’s going to have is a big effect as retrocommissioning, if only because New York City buildings don’t have a lot of roof space compared to other buildings.

GREEN: So, the Real Estate Board of New York represents a lot of these building owners that own these largest skyscrapers in the city. And they say that they support the city’s plan to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030, but they’re skeptical that this particular plan passed by City Council yesterday will work.  Is it possible for the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent in just 10 years?

HSU
You know, people just don’t know how much energy they’re using. People who are more aware of the energy use are suddenly starting to use less energy simply because they want to save money. People want to be selling a more efficient building compared to all the buildings in the marketplace. So that’s, that’s, you know, I’m actually, uh, after how to read the legislation over, I’m not actually as skeptical as the building industry is necessarily that this is going to be, uh, I think it will be difficult to achieve. I don’t think it’s impossible to achieve.

GREEN: Well, David thank you so much for joining us today.

HSU
Thanks very much, thanks for having me.

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