New NYC Green Building Laws Offer Inspiration and Lessons for Boston

In April 2019, New York City passed the $14B Climate Mobilization Act. The new laws will reduce the city’s carbon emissions nearly 30% by 2030 and create thousands of green jobs. The most ambitious aspect of the new legislation regulates emissions from the city’s large buildings.

Both the structure of the new laws and their path from campaign to reality offer numerous lessons for Boston. As threatened coastal cities where building emissions comprise the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, New York and Boston share many similarities. Politicians in the two liberal cities are also willing to act on climate issues (with sufficient activist pressure, of course). Examining New York’s success story provides insights for Boston activists seeking to frame a successful campaign and bring green building laws to Boston.

Ambitious Targets and Fines for Large Buildings

New York and Boston’s largest buildings overwhelmingly emit the most greenhouse gasses. In Boston, for example, less than 3% of the city’s buildings produce over half of the city’s building emissions. New York’s new emissions reduction requirements apply only to buildings over 25,000 square feet and some building types, such as affordable housing developments, are exempt from the new law. Emissions from qualifying buildings must be reduced 40% from 2005 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Buildings that fail to meet these targets face significant fines ($1M or more per year for the largest buildings). Owners can reduce their buildings’ emissions with investments in energy efficiency upgrades and/or by purchasing offsets. The new requirements are estimated to create thousands of jobs – approximately 3,600 construction jobs and another 4,400 jobs in maintenance and operations.

Lessons for Boston Activists

Passing New York City’s new laws required years of advocacy, negotiation, and deliberation by the city’s activists, industry experts, politicians, and policy-makers. The laws’ success also hinged on obtaining the support and advocacy of diverse constituents.

Assemble and Train a Diverse Coalition: Following the 2014 People’s Climate March, environmental justice activists, labor groups, and community organizations formed a new coalition: Climate Works for All. The coalition published a report demanding investments in resiliency, emissions reductions, and green jobs for New York City. The group’s first priority was pressuring lawmakers to design and implement new green building laws. In addition to coordinating public actions and protests, the coalition trained New York City residents to meet individually with City Councilors and other decision-makers to ask them to support the proposed legislation.

Acquire Expertise: At the same time, the Urban Green Council independently assembled representatives from over 40 organizations, including real estate, energy efficiency, and labor representatives, to craft a detailed blueprint for reducing carbon emissions from New York City buildings. The resulting “Blueprint for Efficiency” informed the policy creation for the new laws.

Identify Champions: New York City Councilor Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, initiated the bill with support from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. New York City activists, members of the Urban Green Council’s 80×50 Buildings Partnership, and others worked closely with Councilor Constantinides’s office to construct the bill.

Make the Enemy Tangible and the Consequences Real: Carbon is a climate change villain – but as an invisible gas, it makes a difficult campaign opponent. New York activists, with the privilege of numerous Trump and Kushner properties in their hometown, could easily point to “dirty building” enemies. Many New Yorkers, still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, also offered personal climate change stories to highlight the consequences of inaction. The legislation’s high job-creation numbers also appealed to many New York City residents.

Leverage Existing Resources: Boston has an existing system for tracking emissions from large buildings – the Building Energy and Reporting Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO). BERDO data is public and available through the City of Boston’s website. In New York, a similar mandated reporting system for buildings allowed activists to highlight the city’s major emitters and will soon provide the new Office of Building Energy and Emission Performance with the data to identify and fine noncompliant buildings. In Boston, a key challenge will be passing legislation to give “teeth” to BERDO in the form of fines or other penalties for high-emissions buildings.

Boston has the opportunity to become a climate leader like New York by introducing its own innovative new laws reducing emissions from large buildings. In the coming months, BCAN will continue to craft our new “Green Buildings, Not Greenhouse Gases” campaign. We’re seeking climate champions and advocates – please join us!

 

Further Reading

Want more? The following links offer additional detail on New York City’s new laws:

U.S. News and World Report: How NYC Passed Sweeping Climate Bills

City of New York Press Release: NYC’s Green New Deal

NPR: To Fight Climate Change, New York City Will Push Skyscrapers to Slash Emissions

Urban Green Council: NYC Building Emissions Law Summary

Progress on CCE program guidelines

Update: The City of Boston reports that it has submitted its CCE plan to the DPU on June 20!

At the May 30th meeting of the Community Choice Energy (CCE) Working Group, the City of Boston reported that it is still waiting for the state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to authorize the City to submit its CCE plan to the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). The City anticipated a quick turn-around with DOER, and had not been asked for any additional materials beyond the draft plan it submitted to DOER weeks ago. The City hoped to have its plan approved by DPU in time to make its first foray into the electricity market in January. That timeline now seems doubtful with the delay at DOER and DPU’s expectation that it will need as much as 8 months or more to review Boston’s plan. Eversource is also lobbying for a later start date so that it might have more time to prepare the data transfer to Boston.

Also on May 30th, BostonCAN and other working group participants dove deep into the Values and Principles statement that will guide decision-making as the program details are spelled out and the plan is implemented. In addition to the three values presented for discussion: additionality, preference for local generation, and affordability, the discussion generated 4 additional principles. BostonCAN led the drafting of language codifying a goal of rapid greenhouse gas reduction through CCE’s green power purchases. We also proposed a new principle that residents of Boston’s environmental justice (EJ) neighborhoods should have priority access to those jobs created by CCE. Our Green Justice Coalition allies Youth on Board (YOB) raised the important question of how “affordability” would be defined. YOB also put forward an idea to help make the green electricity even more affordable for low-income residents: a voluntary extra payment option for those who can afford more. We were just beginning to discuss a fourth new principle (meaningful engagement of residents of EJ neighborhoods in the details of the plan design) when the meeting had to end.

Due to the fruitful discussion, City staff announced that they would convene an additional working group session in July to finalize the Principles and Values document. We are excited to have this additional opportunity to work with the City and allies to craft this important document which will guide this program for years to come.

Speak out on Boston’s draft CCE plan!

The City of Boston wants public comments on its draft plan for Community Choice Energy (CCE). You can submit written comments until 5pm on Friday, May 17.

Please consider taking 15 minutes this week to send a short comment on the plan. Email david.musselman@boston.gov with “City of Boston’s Aggregation Plan” in the subject line.

In particular, we encourage you to comment on this section of the plan, which leaves open the possibility that Boston might look outside of New England for its renewable energy:

“The City will require that the RECs [Renewable Energy Certificates] either be created and recorded in the New England Power Pool [NEPOOL] Generation Information System or be certified by a third party such as Green-e.” (page 16)

Put simply, buying RECs is a way of paying for renewable energy. The “either…or be certified by a third party such as Green-e” in this sentence indicates that Boston is not committed to buying all its green energy from generators within our region (i.e. only those recorded by NEPOOL). We are concerned about this lack of commitment.

We see several advantages to keeping Boston’s electricity dollars within New England as much as possible. By supporting the local renewables industry, we encourage the development of more green generators in our own region. This will create jobs locally. It will also hopefully enable the retirement of some older, carbon-burning generators, which will reduce not only the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, but also other types of pollution that threaten local public health. Additionally, the City Council’s authorization for CCE specified that the renewable content should come from our region.

Some may argue that the retirement of carbon-fired plants in other states is still a win for us, since greenhouse gases produced anywhere affect climate globally. What complicates this issue is the fact that the environmental effectiveness of green energy purchases vary from state to state. The strength of a state’s energy regulations and other market conditions affects the value – both environmental and financial — of its RECs. If, to save money, Boston were to buy from a state where green energy purchases do not stimulate new development or shutter dirty plants, Boston might claim to be “green” without effecting much change. This is called “greenwashing.”

If local renewables ever become so expensive as to make it impossible to offer any additional renewable content in Boston’s default CCE rate and still keep prices comparable with Eversource’s, only then would we want the City to consider purchases from outside New England. In that event, we would want the City to ensure that any out-of-region RECs we buy would be effective in stimulating further development of green energy generators.

For more details on how RECs work, we recommend this short video from the EPA or this essay from journalist David Roberts. Roberts specifically discusses the difference between Green-e RECs and RECs sourced from generators in our region.

For more about NEPOOL, see nepoolgis.com/about.

For an example of “greenwashing,” consider this short video from Cascade Policy Institute.

bnef-recs-regions

An illustration of the relative higher value of RECs generated in New England, compared to other regions. Image source: https://www.vox.com/2015/11/9/9696820/renewable-energy-certificates.

Tough Nut to Crack: Reducing Emissions from Boston’s Existing Buildings

After a thorough process of research and deliberation, BostonCAN is excited to announce the focus of our next campaign: winning policy change to accelerate the conversion of Boston’s existing 86,000 buildings to clean energy for heat, cooling, lights, and all their energy needs.

Powering our homes and businesses with fossil fuels accounts for about 70% of our collective greenhouse gas emissions. The Carbon Free Boston report calls for “deep energy retrofits” within 30 years of all existing buildings in the city: installing deeper insulation in walls and roofs with heating and cooling supplied by highly efficient electrical heat pumps. As our grid becomes steadily greener, these heat pump systems will be responsible for fewer and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Our top near-term goal is to strengthen the energy efficiency of  Boston’s largest buildings. Less than 3% of Boston’s buildings account for more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. These largest buildings are already regulated by Boston’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), which covers all buildings of 35,000 square feet and larger. Adding stronger enforcement mechanisms to BERDO will lead property owners to transition more quickly to cleaner energy. More retrofits will also lead to more jobs for Boston residents, as well as cleaner air, soil and water as we reduce our need to transport and combust fossil fuels.

Retrofitting existing buildings is one of the four top priorities that Boston has chosen for the update of its Climate Action Plan. Carbon Free Boston emphasized the importance of reducing carbon use in existing buildings, especially since “85 percent of projected building square footage in Boston in 2050 exists today.”

The goal is challenging. Many Boston buildings face barriers to even basic levels of insulation, let alone the deep energy retrofits they will need. Judy Kolligian, a BostonCAN member and landlord, has already upgraded heating systems for her own and her tenants’ apartments. “I’ve been improving my building as quickly as I learn how to, but my home has asbestos siding and my tenants’ has asphalt siding. I need the City and Mass Save to figure out more cost-effective ways to insulate buildings like these.”

BsotonCAN invites you to join our “Green Buildings, Not Greenhouse Gases” campaign, working with allies and city leaders to find urgent, equitable, and affordable solutions for retrofitting all buildings, from triple-deckers like Judy’s to the biggest buildings in the city.

Castle_Square_2

Pictured above is the deep energy retrofit in process in 2012, at Castle Square Apartments in Boston.

CCE Working Group Explores Green Energy Sourcing Alternatives

BostonCAN is a member of the Municipal Aggregation Working Group that the City’s Environment Department has formed to help ensure that Boston’s Community Choice Energy (CCE) program reflects community priorities. (Note: Municipal aggregation is the legal term for CCE.) Working group members represent City departments and other stakeholder organizations. Monthly meetings began last December and have served to educate the group about different aspects of aggregation design. The February 28 meeting addressed alternative ways that a program can acquire green energy. Guest speakers Megan Shaw from the Cambridge Energy Alliance and Ann Berwick from the City of Newton each described the option that her municipality chose.

Newton’s program goes live this month with a 22-month contract. The program gets green energy by purchasing Class I RECs. A REC (Renewable Energy Certificate) is earned by a renewable energy producer (for example, a solar or wind farm) for each 1,000 kilowatt hours that it generates. RECs are sold on an open market. When people (including aggregations) buy RECs, they help to repay up-front costs for existing renewable projects and to encourage investment in new ones. Class I RECs are for energy produced in New England, New York, or parts of Canada, where they help to green our regional grid and to create local jobs. Newton’s default offering is 60% green (46% more than the current state requirement, or RPS, of 14%). Newton customers may also opt up to 100% green or down to the RPS level.

Cambridge’s second CCE contract started last November. The previous 18-month contract relied on RECs, prioritizing new-vintage solar RECs (SRECs) in order to incentivize local solar development. When the incentive fell short of its goal, Cambridge designed its current, 24-month contract with an “operational adder” (customer surcharge) that will be used to finance a new, City-owned solar project. Cambridge’s program has an opt-up to 100%; these customers pay for Class I RECs in addition to the adder. The program is currently collecting more money than it can use, and the City is considering different options, such as adding battery storage.

Because recent market prices for electricity have been low, Newton and Cambridge now offer their customers both greener energy and lower prices compared to Eversource. However, prices fluctuate, and Berwick said that Newton was careful never to promise its customers cost savings. Alternative ways to set prices for an aggregation will be the topic of the next working group meeting.

In later meetings, the working group will set priorities for Boston’s CCE program and discuss what design alternatives support those priorities best. To help members prepare, the City provided the following questions about green energy sourcing alternatives:

  • Do we want to use RECS, direct investment in new renewables, or some combination of both?
  • If RECs, do we want to buy a fixed percentage above RPS or a varying percentage based on energy prices? In either case, what’s our target amount of renewables?
  • What types of RECs and/or renewable projects do we want to prioritize?
  • How might we want to change the aggregation over time and in response to new circumstances?
  • Do we want opt-up or opt-down options, and if so, what should these entail?

What do you think? BostonCAN represents its members at the working group, and we need to hear from you to do a good job. Send us a message at BostonClimateAction@gmail.com or at Facebook.com/BostonCAN with your opinions and questions.

Check out the City’s new CCE website for the latest progress indicators.

progress graphic

 

Carbon Pricing in Massachusetts

Please join BCAN for a forum on carbon pricing legislation on Wednesday, February 6 at the UU Church, in Jamaica Plain at 7pm.  

Carbon pricing bills have been filed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Senate in January. Rep. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) is the lead sponsor on the House bill, with a list of more than 100 co-sponsors.  Representatives Nika Elugardo, Liz Malia, Chyna Tyler, Russell Holmes, Dan Hunt, Liz Miranda, and other Boston Reps are among those co-sponsoring HD.2370, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions.  The bill would establish a fee for each ton of carbon dioxide emissions produced by carbon-based fuels used in the State (excluding electricity generation, which is covered by another mechanism).  Seventy percent of the fees collected would be rebated to households and employers, organized so that low- and middle-income households would get more in rebates than they pay in increased fuel costs.  The other 30% of the funds would go to a new Green Infrastructure Fund, which would support clean transportation, resiliency, and renewable energy projects. It is estimated that $400-$600 million would be raised each year for this fund.  The bill also has a provision that would assess a carbon fee on gas leaks from gas pipelines and distribution networks in the State.

The Senate bill, SD.1817, An Act to Combat Climate Change, was filed by Senator Mike Barrett, along with 65 co-sponsors.  State Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz, Nick Collins, and Mike Rush are among the Boston co-sponsors. This bill recommends “market-based compliance” mechanisms, including “greenhouse gas emissions exchanges, banking, credits and other transactions . . .” and is less specific than the House bill about the percentage of funds that would be allocated to infrastructure or renewable energy projects.  The Senate bill also provides for rebates to households, and requires that low-income and rural residents not be disproportionately burdened by the market-based mechanisms.

Rep. Benson will present the House bill at the Feb 6 forum, along with a panel including Cindy Luppi, the New England Director of Clean Water Action and chair of the carbon pricing coalition; and Dr. Jonathan Buonocore from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Learning from Cambridge’s Net Zero plan

This Tuesday’s release of the Carbon Free Boston (CFB) report begins a political process for us to make hard choices to accomplish the necessary transition away from the fossil fuels devastating our global climate. The report will outline options that will be debated by stakeholders, incorporated into the City’s 2019 Climate Action Plan, and eventually codified in the ordinances and other policy instruments needed to implement its goals.

To give some context for the CFB report, this blog summarizes the City of Cambridge’s 2015 Getting to Net Zero report. Cambridge’s Net Zero plan exclusively targets energy use in  buildings ‒‒ both the amount of energy used and its source. (Emissions from transportation are addressed in other City of Cambridge documents.)

Cambridge’s plan makes some basic distinctions to guide its energy policy.  Energy reduction strategies for new construction are distinguished from those for existing buildings. Likewise, increasing renewable energy generation within city limits is distinguished from using renewable sources outside the city. In addition, it proposes a local offset mechanism for buildings that do not achieve net zero emissions through efficiency, on-site renewable sources, and a greener grid.

Energy efficiency in new construction is the easiest and least expensive route to net zero.  To take advantage of this streamlined approach, Cambridge set targets ranging from 2020 for municipal buildings to 2030 for labs, such as those in Cambridge’s well-known biotech industry.

cambridge net zero
Timeline for net zero new construction by sector, from Getting to Net Zero, City of Cambridge.

Reducing energy use in existing buildings is more complex and Cambridge’s plan lacks a comprehensive approach. The patchwork of policies proposed include retrofit pilot projects, stronger requirements for large building owners to report energy data and plans for improvements, and eventually a mandate to make energy efficiency upgrades at time of sale.

In tandem with buildings being made increasingly energy efficient, Cambridge expects to increase the generation of renewable or low-carbon electricity, heating, and cooling within the City’s boundaries. The primary sources discussed in Getting to Net Zero include solar, harvesting waste heat from large industrial and commercial buildings, and expanding district energy.  Cambridge will also lobby state government for raising the Renewable Portfolio Standard, thereby reducing the percentage of nonrenewable fuels used to generate the electricity throughout the state’s grid.

For cases where a building’s implementable efficiency measures and renewable sources do not achieve net zero, Cambridge has proposed a local “offset” fund.  In contrast to offsets that protect global carbon sinks such as tropical rain forests, this locally-managed but independently operated carbon fund would be used to support Cambridge-based greenhouse gas reduction and renewable/low-carbon energy projects. No timeline for this fund is included in the report.  This is an implicit acknowledgement that such a fund would require extensive engagement from all sectors of the real estate industry and other drivers of investment in Cambridge’s built environment.

The latest update on Cambridge’s plan can be found at https://www.cambridgema.gov/CDD/Projects/Climate/~/media/1CA864BB4D9E421E858D647D36C3FF76.ashx.