In February 2006, we learned that New York City’s population is expected to grow by one million people by 2025. Several recent analyses have noted New York City already faces a looming electricity shortage, so this may not be welcome news. Increasing population pressures only make the challenge of crafting and delivering a comprehensive, environmentally sustainable, and cost-effective energy strategy that much more difficult.
The Mayor assigned an inter-agency group the task of thinking about where Gotham’s newest residents should live, work and play; how they’ll move around the city; and what other infrastructure changes are necessary to support this 14% increase in population. Part of the infrastructure study involves identifying locations where new power plants could be sited around the city.
Power plant siting is of interest because a 2004 Mayor’s Energy Policy Task Force report suggested that new in-city power plants were one way to meet the anticpated electricity shortfall. In a crowded city like ours, finding a neighborhood willing to host a new power plant is always a challenge. However, if siting iswere to be the only energy issue examined by this long term growth management plan, then it will represent a tremendous missed opportunity.
In many ways, New York’s situation parallels London’s, which similarly expects to grow by 800,000 people over the next ten years. To prepare for this population surge, the Greater London Authority (GLA) undertook a comprehensive planning process several years ago, authoring nine separate policy documents intended to set Europe’s leading city on a rational and sustainable growth path. There is much New York City can learn from London’s approach – particularly its energy strategy.
The first noteworthy idea in London’s energy plan is the way it reflects elements of other GLA policy documents. These strategies – discussing London’s land use, air quality, waste management system, biodiversity, transport, and economic development matters – were each written in a way to deliberately amplify and support ideas discussed in the other plans.
Thus, since 21% of London’s energy consumption relates to transport use, the energy strategy endorses the Mayor’s congestion charge plan and efforts to reduce taxi and bus fuel consumption and emissions. To ensure that people aren’t forced into their cars to shop or commute to work, the energy strategy references the land use strategy, which seeks to increase the density of development near major transport hubs. In other words, London’s approach employs ‘joined up’ thinking, ensuring that its energy policy coordinates with other closely related policy areas.
By following up on recommendations in Mayor Bloomberg’s 2004 Energy Policy Task Force report, the City's Economic Development Corporation, as well as the Department of City Planning (DCP) and other critical government agencies have the chance to emulate the ‘joined up’ model. The Task Force had a narrowly crafted set of recommendations, however, meaning real change will occur only if the City's new analysis goes further, connecting the dots between energy use and the buildings where we live and work. In particular, we should be looking for evidence that the new growth management plan sets targets for on-site power generation, preferably from ultra clean renewable power systems. The plan should also examine which mandates or incentives would be most effective at delivering these goals.
London’s energy plan is particularly instructive, imposing very specific requirements on large new developments. As part of the permitting process, developers must now analyze a new building’s anticipated energy use and document how they will incorporate energy-efficient technologies and natural lighting and ventilation into its design. Large new projects must also generate 10% of their own power on-site through renewable sources (like solar power), and incorporate combined heat and power (CHP) systems “wherever possible” to ensure the site’s power needs are met in an environmentally efficient manner.
There is one planner in London’s City Hall solely dedicated to ensuring each planning application meets these energy requirements. A quick glance at the planning decisions handed down over the past six months shows the GLA doesn’t hesitate to veto projects that violate these rules.
Will Mayor Bloomberg’s new growth management plan be equally bold? New York City is already home to one of the only mandates of this type in the US – a 5% on-site renewables requirement imposed on new buildings in Battery Park City. Imagine the results if such a rule was applied city-wide! Within just a few years, the amount of clean distributed power produced in New York would skyrocket, placing New York in the forefront of green cities around the world. The City may already be moving in that direction, having solicited an Energy Infrastructure Master Plan from Con Edison that examined the role distributed generation could play in new development planned for Lower Manhattan and the Hudson Yards.
There is no question we must tread warily with policies that increase the cost of local construction. Real estate experts estimate it already costs 25% more to build here than it does in New Jersey. From a long-term competitiveness perspective, it is not wise to price businesses out of New York City.
Similar concerns bedevil London’s government every day, yet the GLA believes tough energy standards will make London even more competitive and more desirable within the global marketplace. Energy experts in London also argue these mandates are not a cost burden, because they offer developers incentives to produce highly energy-efficient buildings. This reduces the size of the renewables system requirement, while simultaneously providing long-term energy cost savings to the building owner and tenants.
A final noteworthy piece of London’s energy strategy is its emphasis on creating an energy-based business sector servicing both local and global markets. To date, New York City has not viewed energy in this way. An energy-as-jobs strategy can mean many things, because energy-related employment creates opportunities for New Yorkers of all skill levels:
− Wall Street jobs related to emissions trading or clean energy project finance;
− mechanics for alternative fuel vehicles and high efficiency boilers and chillers;
− technicians who build, install and maintain renewable power systems;
− assembly-line jobs manufacturing sophisticated energy management equipment for buildings; and
− jobs insulating the homes of low-income New Yorkers, thus reducing how much they pay in utility bills.
London is already moving to capitalize on this growth sector. In March 2006, the Royal Institute of British Architects is bringing a delegation to New York City to promote UK design and construction know-how on green building projects. They’ll be meeting with US-based designers, builders, and corporate clients, touting their work in Europe and elsewhere. Will we cede the urban energy marketplace to London-based firms, or should New York’s plan include an assessment of how to grow this industry?
The bottom line is that – conceived properly – Mayor Bloomberg’s new growth management plan can profoundly change how we view, use, and generate energy in New York City. It can build on the foundation provided by the Mayor’s Energy Policy Task Force, and foster better policy coordination among state and city agencies. By scrutinizing the energy impacts of large new development projects, the Mayor’s plan could dramatically increase the number of energy efficient buildings around the city and add dozens of megawatts of clean renewable power to the city’s energy supply. Such a strategy would also create many new job opportunities for city residents.
If, however, the growth management plan views energy in very narrow terms – as simply a power plant siting problem – then it becomes harder to shift away from our current inefficient energy habits. Once a building is constructed, its energy use patterns are essentially fixed for several decades, as are those of the people who live or work in that building. Through this growth management plan, Mayor Bloomberg therefore has an extraordinary opportunity to set New York on a greener energy path, delivering a high performance city to all New Yorkers, new and old.
Come April, it will be interesting to see which path the Mayor has chosen.
Stephen A. Hammer is a consultant and researcher specializing in urban energy systems. He also teaches graduate courses in energy policymaking at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.