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April 24, 2009

The Local Apple

Will the Newtown Pippen, a green apple from Brooklyn, become NYC's new logo? A fruitful idea

The Red-Hot Green Jobs Debate

One front in the climate wars is what it will cost business, another is whether climate policy will produce a wave of new work. Here's a sample of the red-hot green jobs battle. Yes! No!

Get A Green Premium

Insurance companies roll out money-saving products for owners of energy efficient cars and buildings, while making climate-risk disclosures a must according to a study by CERES. WSJ

April 23, 2009

Sicker In The Andes

Climate change will spread malaria and dengue fever up into the Andes, threatening people once safe from these killer diseases. Look it up

Capitol Shrinkage

Speaker Pelosi announces that the Capitol's own carbon footprint has decreased 72% over the last eighteen months. Now, what will Congress do for the rest of us? Stay tuned

Something For Nothing

Electric utility companies want a federal climate law that gives them 40% of their marketable emissions permits for free. Next

Gotta Capture It

The British government will only permit new coal-fired power plants equipped to capture and store some CO2 emissions. Learn more

Sunshine In Texas

The Texas Senate okays $500 million in rebates for buyers of solar PV devices. Supporters expect to see 250-500 MW of new power. WSJ

Why Wind's A Winner

Energy maven Charles Komanoff marshals his facts for wind power. Gale force!

April 22, 2009

Lose The Label

At a National League of Cities conference, the recommendation was to ditch the word "green" and refocus on the benefits of a sustainability agenda. Here's the pitch

FERC's No-Build Scenario

Satisfying the nation's future energy needs may not require new base load power plants says chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Greenwire [Subscribers]

Food With A View

There's a plan to re-open the archway under the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO for a local food market. How civic!

Green Collar NYC

Here's what green collars jobs in NYC look like right now. Work on it

Carbon Tax v Cap & Trade: The Next Round

A carbon tax supporter compares the Larson (tax) and Waxman-Markey (cap and trade) federal climate change bills. Take notes!

SEQRA & Climate Change

A Municipal Art Society report finds that New York's current environmental review law is up to the job of evaluating climate impacts of proposed actions. Fine print

Getting Down To Work

Earth Day 2009 saw the launch of four bills drafted by the Bloomberg Administration that take aim at making New York home to climate-friendly buildings of all ages. Let’s start with a cheer. Last fall, I wrote about earlier drafts of this “Deep Green Quartet” and it’s thrilling to see these bills in the light of day. The operation of 950,000 buildings produces 79% of this city’s carbon footprint. The Administration estimates that its deep green quartet will cover the largest 17,000 properties and it expects 2,000 jobs will be linked to the work created by this legislation.

Among the four bills is the “benchmarking” legislation. Making owners and tenants aware of how much energy and water a building consumes through requirements of the benchmarking bill is a fairly straightforward first step. While some building owners are already going much further by voluntarily upgrading the energy performance of their current portfolios, the number of standing structures that have undergone such renovations is very small.

Consider the Empire State Building. Its owners, with the support of the Clinton Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Institute, will upgrade this Depression-era icon’s energy efficiency by 38% to make this building, once again, a global poster child. This upgrade could allow owners to charge higher rents to their commercial tenants while making a smaller carbon footprint. What it will not allow is direct comparison of its energy use to comparable buildings in the City. The benchmarking bill would create a database allowing tenants and prospective tenants or buyers to compare the energy efficiency of comparable buildings measured in terms of an “Energy Utilization Index”. Despite concern over provisions for the public posting of benchmarking results (something that many EU building owners have accepted) because owners have little control over tenants’ “plug load” electricity consumption, in New York’s tough real estate market a good Index rating could provide the desired competitive edge and a poor rating could be the incentive to rethink standard operating procedures.

The benchmarking bill’s explicit enforcement language is unique among the four pieces of legislation. It spells out that failure to file mandatory benchmarking reports by the stipulated due date makes building owners subject to a Buildings Department notice of a “lesser” violation, which could entail a Commissioner’s Order to correct the problem. Property owners are also required to retain relevant documents that must be available for inspection and audit by the Department. Curiously, there is no language that addresses the filing of false, misleading or incomplete data.

Two other bills in the deep green quartet extend further in their reach and impact. One would adopt the 2007 New York State Energy Code as the City’s own, but unlike the State Code, compliance with energy requirements would have to be demonstrated for virtually all renovation projects. As a practical matter, the State Energy Code as currently written is a dull tool for making existing buildings more energy efficient.

The new energy code bill is clear: “For existing buildings, the State Energy Code only applies when an alteration leads to the replacement of at least fifty percent of a building’s system or subsystem, meaning there are no energy efficiency requirements for many renovation projects of a lesser magnitude or lower threshold. As a result of this loophole, New York City is failing to reap the benefits of energy improvements as the building fabric is updated in those situations.” Its Statement of Purpose is also clear about the importance of enforcement: “The Council finds that it is reasonable and necessary to promulgate a New York City Energy Conservation Code in order to ensure the enforcement of the State Energy Code within New York City”.

Just how would enforcement be carried out under this legislation? It’s hard to say because the bill says nothing. Generally, the City’s Administrative Code provisions governing building and construction are enforced by issuing notices of violation (NOVs) returnable to Environmental Control Board. If an NOV is not resolved, the file remains open and this could throw up roadblocks if the owner tries to sell or refinance the property. Presumably, this would be the enforcement mechanism for the new energy code bill, too.

As well, the City’s current energy code webpage carries this notice: “In Spring 2009, the Buildings Department will begin auditing New Building and Alteration applications for ECCCNYS [State Energy Code] compliance and, when appropriate, issuing objections and notices of revocation for applications that do not meet these requirements”. This language suggests that application review by Buildings will be the first line of ensuring compliance with the proposed law. This will be a big step forward for the City when it comes to reviewing the information that backs up a permit application under the Energy Code. Whether the audit staff at the Buildings Department will have the resources to manage its new and expanding assignments and what standards will be established for selecting permit applications for auditing remains to be seen. Since the language of the energy code bill is so specific about its enforcement purpose, this is not a small matter.

The audit and retrofit bill is the most sweeping in its requirements and, in the short run, is likely to be the most costly to property owners and to tenants, as a result of cost pass-throughs.

In a nutshell, if passed, this bill would require owners of all buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to undertake energy audits once every decade and to make “cost effective” energy improvements, which could entail either upgrading the building’s physical fabric and systems, retro-commissioning to achieve greater energy efficiencies or some combination of these actions. “Cost effectiveness” is to be calculated in terms of the anticipated recurring long-term drop in energy consumption that results from investing in improved efficiency in the short run. For buildings that already perform at a very efficient level, the bill contains provisions requiring only the submission of energy efficiency reports to the Department of Buildings. The bill as currently drafted incorporates neither tax, zoning nor other measures to nudge forward meaningful public acceptance and implementation. Should such measures emerge as the bill undergoes public review, it remains to be seen if they will be applicable to all kinds of building or restricted to a subset such as financially distressed properties.

If a building owner is unable to afford energy efficiency improvements, the bill provides that the owner may apply for a compliance extension from the Department. This is the only “incentive” the legislation offers and that may not be enough.[i] In light of the current credit freeze, access to funds for retrofits and retro-commissioning could be a high bar for many, especially for owners of affordable housing, and for many co-op and condo owners it could also be a tall order. Serious and sweeping legislation merits strategic and sufficient resources to get passed.

Advocates for affordable housing stress the difficulty of providing decent shelter to New Yorkers and are concerned about costs entailed by any new mandates. At the same time, missing from the legislation as it now stands, despite Administration claims to it serving as a labor market stimulus, is reference to things like job training, labor standards. Absent such language, labor-environmental groups like the Apollo Alliance will wonder whether the greening of the existing building stock will be an impetus “good, green-collar” jobs able to offer decent wages, benefits and working conditions. While other Building Code provisions do not concern themselves with such matters, passage of the audit and retrofit bill could hinge on responding to the concerns of such stakeholders.

As drafted, the audit and retrofit bill lacks mechanisms for encouraging early adapters to step forward. While energy efficiency may not be rocket science, the know-how, the track record and the work force to shrink our collective carbon footprint by shrinking our buildings’ energy consumption is a challenge and getting it right will take some doing. Building owners ready and willing to start down the energy efficiency path now would provide real world lessons to everyone; that’s something worth government support. Call them carrots, inducements or nudges; good policy here calls out for considering every option to make it a success. Let me say it again, the deep green quartet has the potential to become the most powerful and direct way to cut energy demand and shrink the carbon footprints of New York and cities everywhere. Show us the carrots!

Since I started this column with a cheer, let me end with some sober suggestions. In light of a widely-shared (but not universal) sense of urgency about greening our building stock to combat climate change, the most likely enforcement mechanism -- an NOV returnable to the ECB and the risk that an open violation would eventually interfere with an owner’s ability to sell or refinance the property – just doesn’t shout out “Urgent! Important!” The lack of specific language to penalize the filing of false, misleading or incomplete documents related to audits and to calculating the cost and return on investment equations for retrofits or re-commissioning is worrying given that there’s more than one way to make these calculations. Could it be that support for the legislation was purchased at the price of anemic enforcement? The lack of robust language in the current bills foreshadows laws that could be fooled with or flouted.

Compliance with much of the City’s Building Code is based on the owner’s need for a certificate of occupancy before a new building can open its doors. But that doesn’t apply for the targets of this legislation, existing structures. Therefore, the ultimate version of the deep green quartet ought to offer a menu of technical and economic assistance options. More specifically, the City should provide accessible information and encourage training for building operations and maintenance staff because this could be a low-cost path toward substantial energy efficiency gains. Private sector incentives could also be mobilized by legislative language that requires code compliance to be made available to property insurers. Now that the insurance industry is beginning to create products that reward green, energy efficient buildings, such language could add to the legislation’s force and impact. Finally, on a different note, when considering legislative strategy, while all four bills have great merit, stakeholders and supporters must consider whether the bills could function separately or if they are meaningless unless they all be passed together

The deep green quartet could be a landmark in legislation and urban sustainability. But the Big Apple gets just once chance to get it passed and get it right. We’re close. We need to get closer.


[i] Access to NYSERDA funds or use of federal tax relief or stimulus funds for energy efficiency improvements is beyond the scope of this discussion.

April 21, 2009

China Could Cap Carbon

China considers setting carbon intensity targets linked to economic growth starting in 2011. Stay tuned

France: Nuclear Power Snoops

A French court is investigating allegations that EDF, a major power utility, hacked into computers of ant-nuclear groups like Greenpeace. Learn more

April 20, 2009

Climate Heat v Political Heat

Democrats in Washington are split over climate change legislation. Is there a way to unite? Consider this

Smart Money For A Smart Grid

A Florida utility joins up with GE and Cisco Systems to invest $200 million on a smart electric grid for Miami. Federal stimulus money could follow. Plug in

Spain Does It Faster

AVE, the Spanish national high speed rail system, is a popular and political success. WSJ

April 18, 2009

Buried At Sea

A Massachusetts-based developer wants to build a coal-fired power plant in New Jersey and bury the captured CO2 emissions in the Atlantic sea bed. Stay tuned

April 17, 2009

Solving the US Rail Dilemma

Europe could have answers for the US where freight and passenger traffic compete for rail space. All aboard

Out-Foxed

A report featured by Fox News claims green energy's a job killer, but the station ignored the author's Exxon-Mobil ties. Media matters

Pope Seeks Solar Power

The Vatican plans to build Europe's largest solar power plant north of Rome. Eco-sinners repent!

The Skinny On Stern

Todd Stern, Obama's top climate negotiator is another Chicago native. Tells you something

Competing for Market Share In Mongolia

Chinese wind turbine makers are challenging the world's biggest producer based in Denmark. Mongolia's the test market Learn more

Green Jobs 101

What are green jobs and what will help them grow? The Pew Center has some ideas. Charts & links

A Banner Day on Climate Change

Friday should be EPA's day to start regulating GHGs with a finding that they pose a threat to public heath and welfare. Begin here

April 16, 2009

Behave Yourself, Save The Planet

Peer pressure can be a powerful agent for meeting climate change goals says behavioral economist. Tweak it!

Under The Sea

UK firms look into storing GHGs from power plants and refineries near London at undersea locations. Dive in

April 15, 2009

Pentagon: Save Energy, Save Lives

The human toll of transporting fuel during the war in Iraq has been unacceptable. Now the Pentagon is looking to break its oil addiction. Yessir!

Big Bucks For Energy Efficiency

Fort Lauderdale to get $2 million in federal stimulus money for energy efficiency projects. Stimulating!

Portland Brainstorms

Leaders on Portland Oregon's high performance building and sustainability fronts gather to establish a research center and an urban eco-district. Learn more

EU Carbon Price Off From Peak

The price of an EU-ETS carbon emissions permit is down to 13.99 euros, as China drops its floor price for emissions credits to 7 euros a ton. Follow the market

Solar Industry: City v City

A good-news bad-news story on the domestic solar power industry. Read all about it

It's Green! It's Flatbush!

Once a bank building in Brooklyn, 33 Flatbush Avenue has been reborn as a green business, green jobs incubator. Drop in

April 14, 2009

Dust Off The Welcome Mat

Taiwan might end its ban on new nuclear power plants in the name of cutting its CO2 emissions. Stay tuned

LNG Port Won't Float

The Commerce Department upholds New York's rejection of a proposed floating LNG terminal in Long Island Sound. Sink in

CCS, Yes?

Carbon capture and storage is an emerging technology for the coal-fired power industry. It's controversial and it's complicated. Look into this array of Scientific American resources.

Build A Green Housing Market

HUD Secretary Donovan wants to improve information, mortgages and tax breaks to attract buyers to energy efficient homes. Move in

April 13, 2009

A Bolt From The Blue

Ever wonder how to protect wind turbines from destruction by lightening? One less worry

Feed-In Tariffs 101

Feed-in tariffs aim to grow the renewable energy supply. It's an idea with fans and foes. E&E News [Subscribers]

RGGI Rolls On

The next northeast states' CO2 auction in June 2009 will offer 33.1 million emissions credits. Get the numbers

Gaming The Tax Code

Follow the twisted tale of how a federal tax credit for reducing fossil fuel use was used by the paper making industry. Get pulped

India: No Carbon Promises

Indian officials won't agree to binding emissions cuts, citing domestic economic needs that rely on coal. No way

April Is The New May

In Early Spring, ecologist Amy Seidl provides a fact-filled portrait of climate changes in the world around us. Consider lilacs

April 11, 2009

Obama Watching

Is the President cooling on climate action or building a two-prong strategy? Look into it

April 10, 2009

Ice In The News

Changes in ice conditions at both poles made news this week. Watch out

London: Pitch For Plug-Ins

London's Mayor Johnson wants his city to be home to 100,000 electric cars and help build a grid of 25,000 recharging points. Drive in

Right Smack Dab In The Middle Of Town

Up on the roof, a Brooklyn Navy Yard building is the first in the City to install a wind turbine. It will generate both electric power and local manufacturing jobs. Let's go

April 09, 2009

Easy To Be Green

The key to energy efficiency in one Victorian house was adjusting the pressurtrol. The what?

Canada: Up On The Roof

Green roof design takes root in Vancouver on a six acre installation with 400,000 native plants and grasses. Come up

Cap & Then?

Maryland will spend $70 million of its RGGI auction revenues to help low income residents pay utility bills, but critics say this money comes at the expense of energy efficiency programs. Learn more

No Go Without The Dough

Five major UK wind energy projects are at risk of being scrapped due to a falling currency and the credit crunch. Plug in

April 08, 2009

Sustainable Glass?

By George! He's Wrong

Washington Post reporters cover the climate errors posted by the paper's op-ed columnist George Will. The back story

US: Times They Are A Changin'

Todd Stern, Obama's lead global climate negotiator, warns that investments in carbon intensive goods and services will be money losers. Gather round

The Efficiency Answer Man

Catch up with the latest on government programs that benefit business and residential energy efficiency. WSJ

Another Kind of Smart Grid

Washington officials find foreign spyware in the US electric power grid. WSJ

Sweden v Germany Over Coal

Responding to local government rules, the owner of a Swedish coal-fired power plant in Hamburg is suing Germany. What's up?

April 07, 2009

Less Risky Business

A major insurance industry group will survey members about assessing and mitigating climate change risks. Plan ahead

Do It Yourself

Want to try your hand at retrofitting the Empire State Building while learning more about the project? Click here

Nudging

For Obama advisor and law professor Cass Sunstein, a nudge is a small shove that leads to big changes. Behave better

Experts Agree: Hotter Earth Ahead

A poll of scientists finds agreement that the Earth will heat up past the danger threshold of 2 degrees Celsius. Sorry

Carbon Cut Conflict

A rift has opened between OPEC members and developing nations over how much CO2 wealthy nations should cut under a new UN climate treaty. Look into it

Promises, Promises

The promise to create gleaming new eco-cities in China is going nowhere. What happened?

Spotlight on Sallan

Urban Agenda


Urban Agenda looks into Nancy Anderson's environmental history and her role on the NYC Apollo Allance Steering Committee. Find out more »

April 06, 2009

Better Than King Kong

The Clinton Foundation and Mayor Bloomberg have a plan to shrink the Empire State Building's carbon footprint — some tenants are already ahead of their landlord. That's Big!

Zeroing In

A Massachusetts study points the way to new and renovated zero net energy buildings. Fine print [5.8MB]

The Green Rose

Jonathan Rose, a real estate developer with green goals, does well by doing good. Profile here

April 03, 2009

Another Look at Waxman Markey Bill

Did you know that EPA would be responsible for enforcing transportation provisions of the Waxman Markey climate bill or that greenhouse gases would not be regulated by the NSR program? Dig more

Markey: Republicans Flunk The Truth Test

Congressional climate bill co-sponsor Markey gives Republicans an "F" on the accuracy of why they oppose his legislation. Dig in

Feds Bullish On Wind

The US Department of the Interior is likely to green light Cape Wind, a 130 turbine offshore wind project. Whoosh!

Peaked Oil?

A major European oilfield services company is looking beyond petroleum to renewables and nuclear power. Find out more

Green v Green

The global climate change movement shows signs of splits over which energy solutions are sustainable and supportable. WSJ

April 02, 2009

How To Rate Great?

If great social policy is 'remedial, serial and exploratory', how does the Waxman-Markey climate change bill rate? Read on

Mama Mia!

Italy's PM Berlusconi could delay international progress on climate change. Ciao Silvio

Google's Renewables Map

Google and greens team up on a map of sites in the US west for renewable energy generation and transmission. Keep clicking

Go Underground

Scientists find that deep underground water systems are excellent at storing CO2. Get down

Budget Path Closed For Climate

Th effort to launch a carbon cap and trade policy through reconciliation of the federal budget is voted down. No

Sun Power At The Great Wall

China will start work on a 1.5 MW experimental solar thermal power plant located near the Great Wall. Visit the future

April 01, 2009

Capturing Carbon In Germany

Germany writes rules for pilot carbon capture and storage projects at power plants starting in 2015. How coal

Cost-Benefit Rules in Clean Water Case

The Supreme Court rules 6-3 that utilities may weigh costs against clean water benefits when upgrading aging power plants. WSJ

High Performance Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh shows American cities how to develop a green and energy efficient building portfolio. Can do!