The Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability has updated the reporting process for Local Law 84, making it simpler for building owners to comply. For example, building owners can now get energy data directly from their utility provider, eliminating the need to send cumbersome and expensive paper notices to individual tenants. Tenants will like the changes because they will no longer need to spend time answering data collection requests from building owners. Everyone wins.
Check out Urban Green’s updated Compliance Checklist & User’s Guide for complete details on all the improvements.
On February 20, Urban Green Council hosted a salon about the new stormwater rules from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) and innovative design strategies for compliance. NRDC’s Larry Levine recently wrote about the new rules on our blog, which reduce allowable stormwater flow by 90% in some cases.
Deep reductions certainly make sense. According to Riverkeeper “more than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted stormwater discharge out of 460 combined sewage overflows (CSOs) into New York Harbor alone each year.”
James Garin and Angela Licata (NYC DEP) provided background on the new rules and their goals. In addition to reducing CSO, the DEP is trying to encourage co-beneficial strategies that increase biodiversity, reduce heat island effect, lower energy use, and add value to properties. One way to do this is by increasing green infrastructure (natural processes that filter water such as green roofs and bioswales) and decreasing grey infrastructure (traditional stormwater and waste water treatment like pipes and sewers).
A big topic at the event was how most compliance is being achieved through detention (holding the water back for a little while so the sewer system isn’t overwhelmed, but ultimately still sending it back to the treatment plant or river) as opposed to retention (holding it onsite and either using it or letting it evaporate, putting no strain on the sewer system). Some would argue that the greater benefits of retention mean we should be doing more to encourage it.
Michael Nilson (Langan Engineering) and Jeff Miles (Kiss + Cathcart Architects) shared recent projects on which they’ve of applied a mix of green and grey strategies. At Bushwick Inlet Park, rainwater is collected from paved surfaces on the hill to irrigate the green roof slope. All other rainwater infiltrates into the ground or passes through a tidal wetland landscape at the river’s edge; no stormwater is sent to the city’s combined stormwater system.
Solar 2, a green energy arts and education center, meets the new stormwater requirements and features a high-tech grey strategy, a “smart tank.” These tanks use internet-based predictive weather data, tank level sensors, and other controls to switch a rainwater harvest tank (retention) into a detention tank when needed to manage stormwater, saving both money and space on the site.
The increased cost of installing larger tanks has been one of the primary criticisms of the new stormwater rules. Architect Jeff Miles argues that the cost difference between green and grey strategies is spurring innovation like smart tanks and vegetative systems. “We’re constructing the future so we should be developing new ways to think about old problems like stormwater,” he says. According to Jeff, early collaboration between the client, architects, and engineers is crucial to a project’s success.
There is a lot of potential for these new rules to bring value but we need to hear more success stories where green infrastructure is used. A tax credit for green infrastructure retrofits available from DEP should also aid innovate owners.
This post originally appeared on EDF Blogs.
As New York City gets repeatedly hammered by snow, ice and the evil “wintry mix,” one could almost forget the world is warming at an ever faster clip. But the experts in the room earlier this month at the roundtable discussion on ‘Economics of Energy Retrofits’ at Urban Green Council (New York’s chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council) know the debate is over. Climate change is real and the window for action is closing. That’s why it’s more important than ever to work toward removing barriers to clean energy financing now.
As the de Blasio administration strives to build a more affordable New York City it’s important to note that clean energy building upgrades are central to this mission. By reducing energy use, building owners and their tenants can realize millions of dollars in annual savings while slashing dangerous carbon pollution for cleaner air and water.
Upfront Cost of Retrofits Presents Obstacle
The market barriers to implementing commonsense energy efficiency upgrades that pay for themselves in just a few years are plain. No one wants to dish out a dollar today for a dollar tomorrow. Upfront costs are a roadblock, no matter how short the payback period. Even when building owners decide to do the right thing, conventional lenders are not focusing on energy efficiency as a valuable service to their clients. This leaves building owners without easy access to clean energy financing.
Sometimes the barriers are even more basic. Despite years of wonk talk about energy efficiency as “low-hanging fruit,” building owners, contractors, and project developers are still in the dark about options, benefits, and appropriate partners to help put talk into action.
State and City Green Banks Clear the Way for Clean Energy Financing
New York City and state have been lucky enough to have prescient authorities who are aware of the large role of financing in addressing climate change. The city-run New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC) and the recently-launched New York state green bank are working to become solution centers for clean energy financing in New York City and state respectively. These institutions are able to leverage expertise and financial muscle to transform inefficient buildings into clean, high-performing investments. By offering custom-built financing at attractive terms, building owners will have no more excuses to leave money on the table.
One project that has taken advantage of the city’s new energy finance offerings is Franklin Plaza, a Mitchell-Lama housing co-op in East Harlem. Franklin Plaza recently closed on the first tranche of its $3.8 million loan through the NYC Housing Development Corporation’s (HDC) Program for Energy Retrofit Loans, a program enabled by HDC’s partnership with NYCEEC. The loan for this project will help reduce Franklin Plaza’s energy use by 15%, cut carbon emissions by 30%, and result in energy savings that are equivalent to averting a 10% rent increase. “The development and preservation of affordable housing is the core of our mission at HDC and the salvation of Franklin Plaza epitomizes this work,” said Marc Jahr, former President of HDC.
NYCEEC recently announced $50 million in financing available through a range of products and partnerships, including equipment loans, mortgage lending, credit enhancements and energy services agreements. This new deployment of private capital is a shot in the arm for clean energy financing and supports:
- Energy efficiency improvements, such as smart lighting, heat pumps, energy management systems, boilers, chillers and more.
- Fuel conversions, under the City’s Clean Heat Initiative, from #6 or #4 heating oil to ultra-low sulfur diesel or natural gas.
- Combined heat and power systems.
- Clean distributed generation, including solar and other renewable energy sources.
NYCEEC’s offerings and the example of Franklin Plaza can be part of a strategy for keeping the new Mayor’s promise of increasing affordable housing in NYC. Clean energy improvements can drive costs down for tenants and guarantee a greener, cleaner and more comfortable living experience.
Visit www.NYCEEC.com to learn more about how we are remaking New York City buildings for a cleaner, greener and more affordable tomorrow.
Susan Leeds is the CEO of the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC)
In 2009, the country’s major environmental groups were focused on the Waxman-Markey bill that would have established a carbon emission trading plan. The bill passed in the House, but then lost in the Senate. It followed a now decades-old pattern of hopes raised and dashed for federal climate change legislation.
A different story unfolded that same year in another white-domed building: New York City Hall. In 2009, NYC enacted the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, the most ambitious effort to date in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. While perhaps the most important installment of PlaNYC, GGBP was just one of over 30 major energy or climate initiatives advanced by the city.
Last month, NRDC and IMT jointly launched a major new initiative: the City Energy Project. The program’s goal is to dramatically improve building efficiency in 10 major U.S. cities. Participating cities get funding for staff and the expertise of the City Energy Project staff, particularly Laurie Kerr, who drove policy at the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability during the Bloomberg Administration.
The City Energy Project was inspired by New York City and PlaNYC. But beyond a testament to New York’s successes, the project reflects a shift in environmental leadership and philanthropic resources to cities rather than the federal government and statehouses.
The country and world took notice of the work going on in NYC. Countless cities and states from across the U.S. and abroad sent delegations to learn about the sustainability advances taking place here, and half a dozen major cities followed our lead by enacting benchmarking ordinances.
Major environmental organizations and funders saw the potential of cites too. Urban centers tend to be progressive, with powerful executives and legislatures that can take bold action. After years of frustrated federal and state efforts, the environmental community realized major gains were waiting to be had in city halls. Now many major foundations and environmental organizations have new “city” programs.
Since 81% of Americans live in cities, these changes are some of the most important we can make. And they provide the environmental community with beachheads in many red states. Thanks to the City Energy Project, we’re going to see successes replicated across the country. Let’s hope their 10 participating cities are just the first group of many!
In the last several years, NYC has stepped up as a national leader in the use of green infrastructure. A multi-agency effort led by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), smarter (and more cost-effective) stormwater management keeps runoff out of overwhelmed city sewers and helps reduce the overflows that regularly plague all five boroughs.
DEP’s technical guidelines allow for two compliance paths: slow-release methods (such as subsurface vaults and blue roofs) or volume-reducing green infrastructure practices (including rain gardens, green roofs, and rainwater harvesting) – or a combination of two approaches. (Although DEP’s current guidelines don’t address permeable pavement, a new city law requires DOT and DEP to develop recommendations on that topic.)
So why should property owners choose the greener path to compliance? Natural Resources Defense Council recently released a report, The Green Edge: How Commercial Property Investment in Green Infrastructure Creates Value, detailing a wide range of benefits that green infrastructure can provide to commercial property owners and their tenants:
• Increased rents and property values
• Increased retail sales
• Energy savings
• Local financial incentives (such as tax credits, rebates, and stormwater fee credits)
• Reduced infrastructure costs
• Reduced flood damage
• Reduced water bills
• Increased health and job satisfaction for office employees
• Reduced crime
Real dollar values can be put on many of these benefits:
On any given property, these benefits can add up to big money over the long-run. The Green Edge includes three examples that show the potential cumulative value of a suite of green infrastructure retrofits to the owners and tenants of medium-sized office buildings, midrise apartment buildings and retail centers. In both the office building and apartment building examples, the total present value of benefits approaches $2 million over 40 years; for the retail center, benefits exceed $24 million, including nearly $23 million of increased retail sales for tenants.
So when it comes to stormwater compliance in NYC, why not invest your compliance dollars in ways that create value, instead of just adding to the cost side of the ledger? Green infrastructure can actually make the difference in having a project pencil out, as illustrated by this case study in the Jan/Feb. issue of Urban Land. In other instances, lower life-cycle costs can be compelling.
In virtually every case, though, putting your stormwater management dollars towards “gray” infrastructure, rather than green, carries an opportunity cost of not using those dollars for something that creates real value beyond mere regulatory compliance.
This big-picture thinking about green infrastructure also applies to existing developed sites, where investments in retrofits can improve older properties and create value, while contributing to the city’s green infrastructure goals. Property owners should check out DEP’s incentives for green infrastructure retrofits, including a green roof tax credit, and a green infrastructure grant program.
The report doesn’t offer a single formula for calculating return on investment. But it does show why the commercial real estate industry should think broadly about the benefits of green infrastructure in order to make wise investment decisions.
So instead of asking “Why green infrastructure?” ask yourself “Why not?”
For more on this topic, see these recent articles:
Larry Levine is a senior attorney in NRDC’s Water Program. He focuses on promoting the use of green infrastructure as a sustainable solution to polluted urban runoff and raw sewage overflows.
“Show me the money.” I guess a lot of people feel that way, because the roundtable event Economics of Energy Retrofits quickly sold out, was moved to a bigger venue, and then sold out again. But once you get a room full of people together, can you explain financing to them in terms they can understand?
Greg Hale (NY Governor’s Office) and Susan Leeds (New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation) tried mightily. They are seasoned veterans and hold senior positions in key institutions, but both found it hard to describe how money gets from bank coffers into project budgets without using terms like “securitization” and “back leveraging.” (I checked, but no, it’s not a yoga pose.)
Maybe understanding the deeper financial machinations isn’t the point, though. The real problem is that the largest barrier to energy efficiency financing is complexity (or as Leeds puts it, “perceived complexity”; maybe people are making it worse than it has to be, although I perceived it as pretty complex myself). To get the gears of energy efficiency loans turning, we’ve got to make it seem easy, normal, and routine. Since energy efficiency is solid business, it should be the darling of private markets, right? Nevertheless, for now, there’s a role for government and nonprofit lenders in the process. By showing how it’s done, again and again, they can prove the concept and make it commonplace. Then the private sector will (hopefully) take it from there, says Leeds.
Moderator Rory Christian (Environmental Defense Fund) wanted to get a better handle on New York’s Green Bank, a state-sponsored investment fund. Hale explained in clear terms the visionary thinking behind this new institution. Traditionally, 80% of state incentive programs have been spent on one-time projects. Hale said that the state’s goal with Green Bank is to “migrate away from a perpetual incentive structure at ratepayer’s expense” to a sustainable financing model. The state gets much more leverage from loans than from one-time incentives, since the funds are returned to be loaned again.
Hale was honest about his initial doubts that NYSERDA, sometimes noted for its bureaucracy, could make the Bank work. But he says the authority has “embraced the Bank, and senior management is working hard to make it happen smoothly.” The Bank will take loan applications on a rolling basis, without a deadline, and Hale says that the Bank won’t operate under what he called the NYSERDA “cone of silence” – loan officers will be able to work with applicants to improve their application at every step of the process.
Unlike Green Bank, NYCEEC (now spun off from New York City government) deals directly with customers as well as other lending institutions. A growing focus is on reaching owners, especially co-ops and condos, when they are financing other building improvements and engaging with lenders. Doing so allows energy efficiency to “tag along” on larger projects. An example is the M-PIRE loan product, offered in conjunction with Fannie Mae. “We can do a lot, but we have to focus on the capital event in the building,” Leeds said. That’s code for “they’re doing a renovation already” but I’ve heard that from my friends on co-op boards, too. And she had the most reassuring words of the whole event: “If you have a project, bring it to us.” How simple is that?
Ultimately, the whole point of Green Bank and NYCEEC is to overcome barriers to energy efficiency lending. As Hale noted, energy savings are not the main goal of the real estate community, so “even if it makes financial sense, it’s a distraction.” He mentioned other barriers to improvements, including working with co-op boards, split incentives between landlords and tenants, and a lack of experience with technologies like cogeneration. Do you think these new lending schemes will help? Let us know in the comments.
My grandmother had a tea cozy. Woven from wool of subdued colors (probably the only wools available), her tea stayed warm all afternoon because (wait for it…) the cozy kept the heat inside the pot!
In overheated New York City apartments, it would be great to be able to keep some heat inside steam radiators. Of course the super has to turn the heat up enough to quiet the noisier tenants in colder apartments. But once he does, most of the other apartments in the building are overheated, and “double-hung thermostats,” aka windows, are regulating temperatures by exchanging cold air for heat and wasting lots and lots of fuel. What to do?
One answer is thermostatically controlled radiator valves (TRVs). These keep the steam out of the radiator unless they sense a room temperature below an adjustable set point. They work well on hot water and two-pipe steam systems, and they’re OK on one-pipe steam if the super knows enough to keep the system steam pressure down. BUT they require plumbing work to install, the resident has to let the owner in to install the system, and given the hassle, the owner may prefer to let the residents stew in the steam. (There are owners who do not seem to be tempted by devices that pay for themselves in fuel savings in a few years – surprising numbers of them.) What can a tenant sweltering in an overheated apartment do?
Soon, urban winter heat-stroke victims, you may have an option that does not depend on the cooperation of the building owner! A New York City startup with a big idea is coming to your rescue with the radiator cozy, a device that will imprison the heat in your radiator, only releasing the modest amount needed to maintain the temperature you choose to set1. With your mobile phone!
Any technology that puts decision-making power on a comfort-inducing item completely in the hands of tenants is a game changer. If you’re overheated, you don’t have to even talk to the owner to install a radiator cozy, and in NYC rental world, that’s often a plus. But if you did, it’s hard to see what an objection could be, since you’ll be lowering demand for fuel. In fact, owners who are reluctant to bring in the professionals needed to install TRVs should consider paying for cozies themselves. At $300 each, a five-year payback2 seems easy to come by if the cozies are installed in overheated rooms with windows that are often open.
Disclaimer: Urban Green Council does not endorse companies or products, and since this product is not yet available, it would make no sense to do so even if we did. But we totally endorse the idea of better tenant control of heating systems, so please consider this a “heads up” to potential progress in this area.
My only complaint is that the developers felt they had to bad-mouth TRVs in some of their material. Since I live in an apartment that is made totally comfortable by TRVs, and has been for years, I found that set of complaints unconvincing. And they don’t need them: the cozy’s ease of installation is a very big deal. Nana would have liked it.
Note 1: The technical stuff: The cozy is an insulated box that covers the whole radiator. It has a fan that comes on when the room temperature drops below the set point, blowing air through the radiator and out, bring heat to the room. When the room warms up, the fan shuts off. Maybe it could be simpler, but I don’t see how.
Note 2: If a radiator services 300 square feet, and an NYC building uses 15 Btu/ft2-HDD, lowering demand by 10% will save 2.2 million Btu of fuel, worth about $65 at $4.00 per gallon. That’s less than a five-year payback. But will it save 10%? The developer says “up to 30%,” but we all know what “up to” means. If they are only installed in overheated rooms with presently open windows, I think 10% (for that radiator, not the system) is a pretty sure bet.
OK, it’s not exactly the Olympics. But for those of you keeping score at home, the New York League of Conservation Voters recently released a scorecard that tracks the votes of NYC Council members on 17 environmental bills from 2012-2013.
Five of those bills* were recommendations of the NYC Green Codes and Building Resiliency Task Forces. While of course I’m incredibly proud of the work of the hundreds of experts and community members who worked on giving strong legislative proposals to the Mayor and Speaker, let’s also give credit where credit is due: all five were enacted unanimously by the Council, a performance worthy of a gold medal.
It’s an encouraging reminder of the widespread support enjoyed by green building and resiliency. And there’s more good news – many of the bills’ sponsors and supporters remain on the Council. We look forward to helping them run up the score.
* Called Recycling, Biodiversity, Green Zoning, Emergency Plans, and Toxic Materials.
It may sound crazy, but I’ve actually enjoyed my bike commute during the polar vortex and other cold weather this winter. There’s less traffic, and it really makes me appreciate coming into a warm office or apartment at the end of the ride. But pedaling down Water Street before dawn, with the vestiges of Superstorm Sandy lurking in the rear view mirror, a thought keeps coming back: what if there was a another blackout and I didn’t have a warm place to go?
Baby It’s Cold Inside, an Urban Green study released today, answers this question. In a blackout, typical buildings would get cold fast. During a weeklong winter power outage, typical buildings would be between 32°F and 43°F indoors. Some would freeze. New buildings are a little better, but still not resilient.
This is a real problem: the Building Resiliency Task Force found that NYC has had seven blackouts in just the last 10 years. We didn’t have really severe temperatures right after Sandy, but our luck may not hold forever. And since we all depend on electricity for heating (even gas- or oil-fired systems can’t operate without it), one incident can instantly cause whole sections of the city to become uninhabitable.
It’s a different story when buildings are designed for daylight and views and include well-insulated solid walls, triple-paned windows, and air sealing to minimize drafts. Without power, these high-performing buildings would stay at 54-66°F in winter for a week or more.
We don’t have enough shelters for the whole city if there’s a multi-day power failure. The difference between 60°F and 40°F indoors isn’t just about comfort, it’s about safety. Two hours at 54°F raises blood pressure and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, and below 41°F hypothermia is a significant risk.
Interestingly, despite today’s cold temperatures, some of the press coverage for the study focuses on summer overheating in glass buildings. The full story is quite a bit broader. All buildings, including those with a lot of glass, can benefit from high-performing features. The story wasn’t meant to be divisive, since the opportunity to improve their insulation and air sealing is something all building types share.
Some people can afford this resilient construction more than others. But everyone deserves the protection of a resilient building. This is true not just in NYC, but any place where it gets hot or cold. We have many tools to make this happen: building codes, a focus from city government, NYSERDA grants, energy-aligned clauses in leases, and energy-efficient mortgages. And these improvements often pay for themselves, so we can much better prepared while saving energy and money. High-performing buildings need to become the new normal.
“You can be the greatest designer in the world, but if you can’t work under the pressure of politics, or don’t understand the need for a profit motive, you will accomplish nothing. Urban design changes things.” So says New York City’s former chief urban designer Alexandros Washburn at Urban Green’s sold-out author talk. Three billion people live in cities now – a number that will increase to five billion by 2030. Washburn guesses only about 30,000 of them have any clue about how to improve urban quality of life, perhaps the smallest ratio of experts to stakeholders of almost any human endeavor. We need more people working to make cities better. But having a great vision isn’t enough; for change to occur, politics and finance have to align with design.
Washburn’s heroes include Frederick Law Olmsted (who not only designed Central Park, but actually got it built), Jane Jacobs, and even the controversial Robert Moses. All these urbanists share something in common with the evening’s audience of green building devotees: they strove to leave our city better than they found it. Washburn said it’s a lesson he learned directly from a beloved boss, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who said about rebuilding Penn Station: “Make it inevitable.” The connection between the late, great NY Senator and NYC design was palpable, as Washburn paused and gathered himself after sharing personal memories from Moynihan’s funeral.
At his Red Hook home during Sandy, Washburn experienced firsthand how cities’ effects on the climate are coming back with a vengeance. And while some of his pictures of empty, waterlogged streets have an almost tranquil quality, he takes a darker view: “It makes you want to think of Venice. But it’s not like Venice, and it’s something we have to protect against.” There’ll be no retreat from climate change, just as New York showed no retreat when facing another citywide crisis caused by poor urban design: endemic disease in the 19th century. Just as this was solved by urban designers (and hygienists), we’ll do the same with climate change, he says. One exception: “Take the boiler out of the basement!”
Washburn says resiliency planning (like the work of the Building Resiliency Task Force) can be more than just a reaction to Sandy. New laws, buildings, and infrastructure “both reduce risk and offer an opportunity to improve civic life.” The changes to come can both strengthen and beautify our city, and provide other benefits as well. But there’s a management challenge.
Under our current complex system, it can take years from project conception to breaking ground – even longer if the project is really innovative. Will that work in the face of what’s coming? Washburn thinks not: “If climate change starts accelerating, we won’t have the luxury of a system that takes years to make well-considered changes. If we need change faster than our system can provide it, we are at risk of authoritarians. They will say we need it for the good of the city. I want to work on making the system faster while keeping it responsive and subtle.”
Washburn will now be undertaking this work at the Stevens Institute of Technology, and he’s likely to find success motivating students there. Washburn has a unique talent to make the hidden underbelly of urban design a topic of vivid interest and beauty. Of course, not many speakers wax poetic about their favorite zoning law (he prefers the groundbreaking Zoning Resolution of 1916), so he doesn’t have a lot of competition!
Having seen him speak twice about his book, it’s clear his engagement with audiences about urban design goes deeper than just the strength of his personal interest. I was most moved by his description of how the High Line came to be. Proposed by unlikely champions and implemented by an even more unlikely coalition of private and public funds, he thinks Olmsted, Moses and Jacobs would all grudgingly endorse it, meaning politics, money, and design needs have probably been satisfied. Washburn is extraordinarily lucid in his description of the technical mechanism that allowed the High Line to happen in the face of opposition from owners of the land underneath the defunct railway, forever blocked from building their rightful five stories. The solution was air rights transfers, allowing those owners to sell the rights to build higher buildings a few blocks away and turning them “almost overnight from being enemies to friends of the High Line.”
As he drew the audience deeper into the tale of this almost-impossible urban miracle, a hushed silence fell over the room as Washburn reverently intoned the name of the design solution that solved the problem: “Special West Chelsea District Rezoning.” This phrase might have seemed esoteric or even comical in another venue. But this evening, they acquired new meaning, summing up all by themselves the sacrifice and success of those who had left their part of New York better than they found it.
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