New York City Pushes Ahead Toward Sustainability with PlaNYC

The update to PlaNYC -- New York City’s long-term plan for a sustainable future -- which was released last week, continues to demonstrate Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s leadership on clean energy and climate change. There is an important role for cities to play on this issue, and New York City serves as a strong model of innovation and bold, decisive action.

 Below are a few highlights of the new energy initiatives included in the update:

  • Facilitating Energy Efficiency Upgrades – the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC).  Energy efficiency is the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to meet our energy needs and address climate change. The new NYCEEC will play a critical role in helping to catalyze the development of a full-scale energy efficiency industry in New York City through the creation of an information center and the facilitation of energy efficiency financing. This entity will make it much easier for people to navigate all of the efficiency programs that exist and will help to address one of the main obstacles to increasing efficiency -- the lack of access to up-front capital. NRDC worked closely with the mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability to launch this effort and we look forward to remaining involved to help develop its business strategy. 
  • Fostering the Market for Solar Power. The initiatives announced to increase solar power in New York City, including exploring the development of solar projects at municipal landfills and the creation of an online solar map to determine rooftop solar potential, will help harness the tremendous potential and many benefits of this untapped resource. By promoting the development of a robust solar industry in New York, we can create jobs, increase the reliability of our electric grid, reduce transmission and distribution costs, and clean our air.  Solar power is at its peak when we need it the most -- during those hot summer days. The city’s efforts, along with the passage of strong State legislation, can help New York lead the way with respect to this clean, renewable resource. 
  • Adopting and Promoting Energy-Aligned Leases. Commercial landlords often defer opportunities to invest in energy efficiency opportunities that appear to generate reasonable financial returns, because leases fail to align the initial cost of energy efficiency improvements with the benefit of energy savings. This split incentive for operating efficiency is a result of standard leasing practices for commercial buildings, under which tenants are typically the primary beneficiaries of decreased operating expenses resulting from energy efficiency improvements implemented by landlords.  The city will help to address this barrier by developing and promoting the adoption of voluntary model lease language that ensures both landlord and tenant benefit from energy efficiency savings. It will also lead by example by adopting this language in new leases where the city is a tenant. The city is already off to a good start with the signing of the first commercial energy-aligned lease in New York City three weeks ago.
  • Expanding the Successful Mayoral Carbon Challenges. In the initial version of PlaNYC, the mayor challenged New York’s largest hospitals and universities to match the city’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% within 10 years. Twenty-nine institutions stepped up to the challenge, and in fact some have already surpassed the goal while many are on track to meet it well before the 10-year mark. Now, the mayor will expand this challenge to at least two additional sectors. Large commercial tenants would be particularly good candidates to include in the program, as existing commercial buildings offer substantial opportunities to save energy and reduce carbon emissions. 
  • Implementing the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan. Of course, a plan is only as good as the actions that result from it, so implementation is key.  In December 2009, the New York City Council passed the landmark Greener, Greater Buildings legislation, which will significantly increase the energy efficiency of our large, existing buildings. In addition to creating a New York City Energy Conservation Code, the suite of bills requires: annual benchmarking of buildings’ energy use; energy audits and retro-commissioning of building systems; lighting upgrades; energy efficiency retrofits in city buildings; and submetering of commercial tenant spaces. The legislation is expected to reduce New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 5 percent, save New Yorkers an estimated $700 million annually in energy costs, and create over 17,000 jobs in the coming years.

These initiatives recognize the critical role that sustainability plays in planning for the city’s future and ensuring both a healthy economy and environment.  We look forward to continuing to work with the city on all of these efforts and moving toward a Greener, Greater New York.

This article originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog and is reprinted with permission.

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Image CC licensed by Flickr user Ed Yourdon.