October 15, 2020

Leveraging Energy Audits and Retro-Commissioning to Reduce New York City GHG Emissions

By Saverio Grosso, CEM, CEA, EBCP

Today, energy audits and retro-commissioning are widely recognized as effective ways to help lower a building’s energy use and lower greenhouse gas emissions, however, this hasn’t always been the case.

As we continue to focus on the New York energy market, we wanted to take the opportunity to not only look back at NYC’s first set of energy efficiency legislation, Local Law 87 – as part of the ambitious Greener Greater Buildings Plan – but also look ahead and develop compliance pathways for Local Law 97; acknowledging the critical foundation that was established to tackle emissions from buildings in NYC.

The Greater, Greener Buildings Plan as a Steppingstone for the Climate Mobilization Act

It was just over a decade ago, but the conversations that occurred that day would go on to shape the energy engineering and sustainability landscape for New York City in a drastic way.

Sitting in that small conference room with the ambitious team from the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, along with other consultants, we began discussing an approach to develop legislation around assessing buildings and identifying energy efficient measures that could yield cost savings while also achieving the carbon reduction goals set forth in the city’s Mayor at the time, Mayor Bloomberg’s, PlaNYC 2030. After months of discussions around methodology, metrics, industry best practices and guidelines, and the practical application of these services, the City Council passed the legislation known as Local Law 87 of 2009.

This new law mandated that buildings over 50,000 gross square feet undergo periodic assessments with the intent of informing building owners of their energy consumption through energy audits, which are surveys and analyses of energy use, and retro-commissioning, the process of ensuring correct equipment installation and performance. The goal was to give building owners a much more robust understanding of their buildings’ performance, which would eventually shift the market towards increasingly efficient, high-performing buildings.

It was clear from the beginning that the City wanted to be at the forefront of the effort to achieve the carbon reduction goals. New York City owned, operated and managed buildings are responsible for three-quarters of the City’s total GHG emissions and, from the onset, the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) agreed to take a leading role in addressing the problem of global climate change by conducting LL87 energy audits and retro-commissioning projects throughout their vast portfolio of city buildings.

In September 2014, Mayor DeBlasio announced that New York City committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over 2005 levels by 2050, starting with One City, Built to Last: Transforming New York City’s Buildings for a Low-Carbon Future. The goal of the plan was to “make our public buildings models for sustainability” through investing in high-value energy efficiency projects in all City-owned buildings.

The City also expanded the funding program to reach many more agencies, support new and innovative projects, and provide the incremental costs of efficiency measures in planned capital construction projects. Other initiatives include expanding solar power on City rooftops, implementation of combined heat and power (CHP) projects to generate energy more efficiently and reliably, improving building operations and maintenance and piloting new clean energy technology in City buildings. The City also seeks to improve compliance with existing laws, raise standards for energy performance on new construction and renovations, and promote resiliency improvements during efficiency upgrades.

Flash forward to 2020, and for many (thanks to the City of NY leading by example), no longer is LL87 considered just a mandated requirement but rather it is viewed as an invaluable tool towards improving building operations and achieving real energy savings.

The Climate Mobilization Act (Local Law 97)

After nearly a decade of LL87 projects, it was apparent the potential for energy savings being identified could yield greater results and became a springboard to another legislative change. Once again, the OLTPS sought a means to further move the city toward deeper energy reductions and a much larger carbon impact.

Enter the Climate Mobilization Act. To reduce carbon emissions from buildings, the City of New York enacted Local Law 97 (LL97) in 2019 as a part of the Climate Mobilization Act. This leading-edge law places carbon caps on most buildings larger than 25,000 square feet—roughly 50,000 residential and commercial properties across NYC. These caps start in 2024 and will become more stringent over time, eventually reducing emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Unlike Local Law 87, where energy audits and retro-commissioning efforts were meant to create awareness and identify energy efficiency and conservation measures, Local Law 97 goes one step further by mandating buildings to implement the recommended measures and upgrades  – and building provisions in the Climate Mobilization Act of 2019 are considered significantly more aggressive given the severe penalties.

While much of the legislation is being refined through a 16-member Climate Advisory Board and eight Climate Working Groups to develop aspects of the law that have been left up to rulemaking, a compliance timeline has been published for guidance and line of sight into major milestones.

New York Energy Series: Implementation Timeline

(Credit: Urban Green Council NYC Buildings Emissions Law Summary)

Looking forward

A decade later, we are proud to continue being part of the action team helping not only the City, but commercial, industrial, and institutional market leaders, pave the way in achieving their energy efficiency, carbon reduction, and sustainability goals.

Wondering if your building is due for LL87 compliance or what steps to take first to calculate emissions penalties as part of LL97? Contact Edison’s NYC based energy engineers here for next steps on conducting an audit of your facilities, or click here to download our LL87/97 fact sheet.

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