City Plans to Make Older Buildings Refit to Save Energy

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City Plans to Make Older Buildings Refit to Save Energy

Postby StephanieCutts » Mon May 25, 2009 11:23 pm

City Plans to Make Older Buildings Refit to Save Energy

Elected leaders in New York City will propose a suite of laws and other initiatives on Wednesday aimed at reducing energy consumption and related emissions of greenhouse gases by requiring owners of thousands of older buildings to upgrade everything from boilers to light bulbs.

Planners asserted that the package, drafted by the offices of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, would result in $2.9 billion in private investment in building improvements by 2022 and generate 2,000 new jobs in energy auditing and related fields as well as thousands of temporary construction jobs.

City officials estimated that it would save property owners roughly $750 million a year in energy costs, city officials said. The program would begin in 2013, with 2,200 buildings performing audits and beginning upgrades each year for a decade.

To limit political hurdles, improvements to a building would be mandatory only if the energy audits showed that the costs of the improvements could be recouped through declines in energy bills within five years.

Mayor Bloomberg will roll out the proposal on Wednesday, as Earth Day celebrations unfold across the city and the nation.

Yet despite the green gloss, there are signs that he and his allies on the City Council could face significant opposition to the plan from property owners.

Groups representing building owners and managers have already told the mayor’s office that they strongly oppose some of the proposed steps.

Seattle is also introducing a plan on Wednesday to encourage energy thrift in buildings, but it does not include mandatory upgrades.

The moves are part of a nationwide push ­ from Berkeley, Calif., to Austin, Tex. ­ to cut back energy waste and consider the impact that emissions from buildings have on the climate. By many estimates, the heating, cooling and electrifying of buildings accounts for more than one-third of the country’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas linked by scientists to global warming.

The focus on older buildings is particularly important in New York, where buildings account for 80 percent of the city’s carbon-dioxide emissions and their energy costs are about $15 billion a year, said Rohit Aggarwala, the director of the city’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. New construction with tighter energy standards will ensure greater efficiency, but most of today’s older structures will be around for decades to come, he added.

“Existing buildings are in fact the nut that must be cracked if we are ever going to make a dent on the demand side in terms of energy,” Mr. Aggarwala said.

The efforts in New York and Seattle will be aided in part by a portion of the $2.8 billion in energy efficiency and conservation block grants included in the federal stimulus package, officials in both cities said.

New York City plans to use $16 million in stimulus money to prime a revolving-loan fund that will help property owners pay for energy improvements.

Seattle will use $1.2 million from a stimulus grant to provide loans for energy-efficient upgrades to buildings there, Seattle officials said.

Told of the cities’ plans, Van Jones, the new White House special adviser on green jobs, said the country was finally moving to harvest the “low-hanging fruit” of building efficiency.

“Getting buildings to waste less energy results in job creation and cutting carbon pollution,” Mr. Jones said. “Money that was literally going out the window can be reinvested in businesses, in consumer purchases or savings.”

The New York requirements for buildings, if approved, would in theory reduce the city’s total carbon-dioxide emissions by 2022 by around 3 million tons a year. That is equivalent to 5 percent of the city’s total emissions of 63 million tons in 2005, officials said. The planned reduction in emissions from building improvements equals all such emissions now from the city of Oakland, Calif., Mr. Aggarwala said.

Among four related bills to be introduced, one would create the city’s first energy code, requiring for the first time that upgrades to equipment in all of the city’s one million structures meet the latest standards for energy efficiency. The existing state energy code allows many renovations to take place without a switch to the latest, most efficient components.

Most of the plan’s other elements apply only to the city’s larger buildings. All 22,000 buildings in the city with more than 50,000 square feet of floor space would have to conduct energy audits every 10 years, according to city officials. (City-owned buildings of 10,000 square feet or more, and most schools, would be audited and upgraded as well.)

Owners of larger buildings would have to participate in an online “benchmarking” program of the Environmental Protection Agency that creates a profile of a building’s overall energy efficiency. The results would be made public along with the property’s tax-assessment information.

Any improvements in windows, insulation or other building components that would pay off in saved energy costs over five years would be mandatory, according to the plan.

Officials from the New York chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association said they supported the energy code, lighting improvements and steps requiring energy “benchmarking.” But they said they strongly opposed the biggest component of the plan: the required energy audits and mandatory upgrades.

In a recent letter to the mayor’s office, Angelo J. Grima, the president of the New York chapter, said the plan to have upgrades determined by outside energy auditors could lead to inflated prices and the wrong solutions.

“We believe that the building prioritization of retrofitting is best left in the hands of the building owner/manager, not outside consultants who seek to bundle projects and lead to higher costs for our members,” his letter said.

But Ms. Quinn, the City Council speaker, said that opponents would have a hard time marshaling an effective argument against the measures, given the multiple benefits.

“There’s always somebody against something,” she said. “But I do think this package is comprehensive thoughtful and fair and sends a message that making buildings and real estate green is not something that stands in the way of business owners and others’ making money.”

As Rockford aims to reduce its carbon footprint by 2012, Brad Roos used lumber harvested in Winnebago County, installed a bamboo floor and recycled carpet at Katie’s Cup, installed energy efficient windows, and uses solar panels to heat water for his Lantow Lofts development on Seventh Street.

That was just the beginning of his Zion Development Corporation’s use of green technology on the $5.7 million project in the city’s urban core.

“This building is probably one of the greenest buildings in the county,” Roos said.

Mayor Larry Morrissey signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement in June 2008, joining other mayors across the country in pledging to reduce global warming pollution in their cities 7 percent less than 1990 levels by the year 2012.

Signing the pledge made Rockford a “Cool City” in a campaign that first started in 2005 to reduce pollution in an attempt to reduce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane believed to be the cause of global warming.
What you need to know: Cool Cities

Cool Cities are cities that have committed to stopping global warming by signing the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement. The Cool Cities campaign started in 2005. It is meant to not only raise awareness about the issue but to encourage cities and residents to use renewable energies and reduce reliance on fossil fuels that lead to greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: Sierra Club

Storm Water Project Manager Brian Eber said among the first steps in the campaign is to complete an inventory of global warming emissions in city operations and across the community, set reduction targets and create an action plan.

A $1,700 computer program was recently purchased to create the emissions inventory. It takes into account a multitude of variables to determine a theoretical emissions level based on energy consumption and emissions, Eber said.

It is a needed component before a plan is created and reduction targets set. But the city isn’t waiting to complete those steps to take action on pollution reduction, officials said.
Zoning changes encourage city to go green

Zoning ordinance changes in 2008 paved the way for new green energy technologies like geothermal heating and cooling systems, said Todd Cagnoni, manager of current planning.

He said among a host of changes that encourage the use of green technology and materials, the new zoning ordinance discourages sprawl and seeks more open space while allowing for the possibility of using permeable materials to be used for parking lots and driveways called “grasscrete.” It also encourages new development plans to be designed with a “walkable” community in mind.

Now, Cagnoni said the city is seeing a shift in the mind-set of residents and business owners.

“We’re seeing more on the private sector side, commercial and residential, who also want to evaluate green technologies in their lives or business practices,” Cagnoni said. “We’re seeing a shift as energy costs become more and more of a demand on budgets. If there is an alternative that is more efficient, they are looking at them.”

Green energy sought
Assistant City Administrator Julia Scott-Valdez said the city, working with a grassroots community group, introduced a “No Idle” campaign that encourages motorists to turn off vehicles whenever feasible to reduce fuel consumption.

Last year, new bike lanes that make alternative forms of transportation more palatable were installed in the first part of a multiyear project.

The city is also exploring alternative energy pilot projects for biofuels, solar energy, wind power and hydroelectric power. Ever said there is talk of an agreement for the city to take ownership of the Fordam Dam on the Rock River and evaluating the costs and benefits of recommissioning the dam to produce electric power. A plan to develop a solar farm at the Chicago Rockford International Airport is being explored along with using stimulus funds to create a training program for “green collar” jobs.

Investing in environment-friendly development
It also has backed green developments such as Lantow Lofts with more than $650,000 in Seventh Street Tax Increment Financing District money.

Katie’s Cup, a new coffee shop located in the first floor of the seven-unit condominium building, is heated during the winter and cooled during the summer by harnessing the power of the earth beneath the building through a 25-ton geothermal heating and cooling system. Ten thermal solar panels on the roof, augmented with tankless water heaters, supply the building with hot water.

Most lights in common areas of the building are controlled by motion and heat sensors.

There are virtually no beverages sold in the coffee shop that can’t be recycled and even its coffee bar is made of recycled material or environmentally sensitive material, said Roos, who is not only the developer of the adaptive reuse project, but also its first resident.

Roos said he first became sensitive to the issue of conservation during a childhood trip as a Boy Scout to a pristine forest preserve in Canada. He was dismayed to see a milk jug float by in a clear stream.

Now, the forest preserve has strict regulations on what hikers are allowed to bring into the forest and trains them to pack out what is brought in.

“If you apply that mentality to the Earth, that whatever you produce, you need to reuse or recycle so that we can keep the Earth sustainable,” Roos said. “When you see those practices and know how much sense they make and know how much trouble we are in ­ when carbon dioxide levels build in the atmosphere we start to see climate change and species elimination ­ that is scary stuff and it has got to be a wake-up call.”

Staff writer Jeff Kolkey can be reached at or 815-987-1374.
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