Fully electric buildings for New York State would be required in the Landmark Bill

Efforts to electrify buildings are getting a new boost – this time at the state level.

While a bill in the city council that would effectively ban gas connection to new construction has stalled in the negotiations, state lawmakers are pushing for a more sweeping measure that will require new buildings across the state to be fully electric by 2024. And in 2023, an all-electric building would not be able to convert to use fossil fuels.

The landmark bill, introduced in May by Senator Brain Kavanagh (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn) and Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher (D-Brooklyn), was amended in late October to speed up timelines.

“We can not allow any new fossil fuel infrastructure and still reduce emissions enough to avert climate catastrophe,” Gallagher said on Monday as President Joe Biden assured world leaders at the UN climate conference in Glasgow that the United States would achieve its climate goals.

Kavanagh said he is optimistic that the state measure has the necessary support to survive. If it does, New York would be the first state in the country to mandate all-electric buildings. More than 50 California municipalities have all-electric building codes, and other cities, including Seattle and Ithaca, are promoting the electrification of new buildings.

New York property managers say the bill expects too much, too soon. The technology is not quite ready for gas-free buildings, opponents say, noting that all electrical structures will largely depend on energy generated by fossil fuel-powered plants.

Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher (D-Brooklyn) called for the termination of cash bail during a protest outside the Manhattan District Attorney's office, October 6, 2021.

Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher (D-Brooklyn) speaks during a protest in October.
Ben Fractenberg / BYEN

But Kavanagh and Gallagher, who met near City Hall on Monday with local environmentalists, said their measure lays the groundwork for meeting ambitious targets to eliminate dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions.

“We are here to take one of the largest sources of carbon emissions and remove the excuse that utilities use to build hazardous pipelines and dirty energy plants,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher’s district, which includes Greenpoint, is a battleground as environmentalists and community groups fight National Grid’s proposal to upgrade its neighborhood facility and expand a natural gas pipeline there – both projects, the company says, are needed to ensure service reliability.

Last week, THE CITY reported, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency opened a civil rights investigation into the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s role in reviewing the environmental impacts of the proposed project.

VP Harris weighs in

While activists met at City Hall and Biden spoke in Glasgow, Vice President Kamala Harris and Energy Minister Jennifer Granholm showed up at Kennedy Airport in Queens to pitch key climate initiatives, including some that are part of the president’s Build Back Better proposal.

Among the plans: create a public-private partnership to accelerate the development of affordable, electric heat pumps for residential construction in cold weather.

“This will not only cut emissions – it will help families save on their monthly energy bills,” Harris Harris said.

At the local level, Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brooklyn) is proposing a bill that would ban the use of carbon-emitting fuels above a certain threshold in new construction or renovations. The effective ban on fossil fuels would hit two years after the bill was passed.

Amrpy-Samuel told THE CITY on Monday that Councilman James Gennaro (D-Queens), who chairs the Environmental Protection Committee, has pledged to hold a hearing on the bill, which has been tied up since May this month. A spokesman for Gennaro confirmed that a hearing will be held soon.

So far, Ampry-Samuel said she is pleased to see a renewed push for the law on electric buildings in the state Senate.

“To protect the lives of our future generations, this moment in time requires an approach at all levels from all levels of government,” she said.

Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brooklyn) speaks at a town hall meeting in favor of the adoption of a bill banning the use of fracked gas in new developments, on September 23, 2021.

Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brooklyn) speaks at a town hall meeting in favor of the adoption of a bill banning the use of fracked gas in new developments, on September 23, 2021.
Ben Fractenberg / BYEN

In the meantime, they are negotiating the terms of the Ampry-Samuel bill with the Council with the Blasio administration.

“New York City is committed to fighting climate change, and accelerating the shift to electric buildings will mark an important step forward,” said Ben Furnas, director of the mayor’s office on climate and sustainability.

‘It must happen’

Focus on electrifying buildings is a key part of the city’s and the state’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions from planetary heating to mitigate the effects of climate change.

“The fact is, we want to switch to all-electric buildings. It has to happen. There is no way to reach our CO2 reduction goals without doing so,” said Amy Turner, senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

Buildings are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New York City. Across the state, buildings account for a third of emissions, the second largest source behind transportation, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Environmental groups have been pushing to replace gas stoves, water heaters and stoves to reduce pollution, improve health outcomes and create job growth, especially in non-voting communities.

A number of groups – including the Alliance for a Green Economy, Food and Water Watch and the New York League of Conservation Voters – hammered that message home during Monday’s event near City Hall.

“The faster we can get this through, the faster we can actually be the actors and not just the people who are talking, who are over in Glasgow,” said Sane Energy Director Kim Fraczek.

As of 2024, existing buildings of more than 25,000 square feet in New York City must cut their emissions in accordance with the city’s local law 97, which imposes restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions and fines buildings that fail to comply with these limits.

In January, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to ban gas connections in new buildings by 2030, in line with the recommendations of the State Climate Action Council, the group tasked with figuring out how to achieve the goals of Climate Leadership and Community Protection. Action. The council also supported a gas ban on new single-family homes by 2025.

The law imposes an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, electricity produced from zero-emission sources by 2040 and reductions in carbon through electrification to mitigate climate change.

‘Limits to technology’

The bill on state-owned electric buildings – which sponsors said would add teeth to the Climate Leadership Act – is likely to face setbacks from the same players who have supported the decarbonisation targets in the city’s version of the bill while protesting against the timeline.

In a statement, James Whelan, president of the New York Real Estate Agency, raised concerns about “the limits of technology and equipment and the complete lack of reliable carbon-free electricity in New York City.”

A spokesman for the American Council of Engineering Companies in New York, which represents nearly 300 consulting and engineering firms, also expressed concern over the timeline of city legislation, which it said does not take into account different types of building stock.

Technical barriers are real, said Gina Bocra, head of sustainability at the city’s buildings department, who was the example that new hospital buildings are harder to electrify than e.g. multi-family buildings.

“There are different animals when it comes to their energy consumption and the types of resilience and redundancy that are needed,” she said. “But there are far fewer constraints than there are opportunities, and we need to find a way to move forward.”

Real estate and infrastructure developers have also questioned whether the electrification effort is taking place in step with the greener electricity grid, which is still mainly powered by fossil fuels.

Utilities Set goals

A August report by researchers from Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health and elsewhere found that decarbonisation of the grid and electrification of buildings must go hand in hand to be efficient, noting that the city’s electricity is “emission-intensive”, even more than on- combustion of fossil fuels as gas.

Con Ed, which supplies electricity and natural gas to customers in New York City, “is working with customers to consider cleaner alternatives to natural gas for their heating needs and will continue to reduce the gas system’s carbon footprint,” said spokesman Jamie McShane.

The plant also monitors and invests in the grid to meet increased electricity consumption as transportation and buildings release gas, McShane added.

National Grid Depot in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, March 1, 2021.

National Grid Depot in Greenpoint
Ben Fractenberg / BYEN

Karen Young, a spokeswoman for National Grid, pointed to the company’s commitment to becoming net-zero by 2050, a measure that refers to when the amount of greenhouse gases produced equals what the company equalizes or removes from the atmosphere.

Young stressed that “low- and carbon-free fuel technology combined with aggressive energy efficiency and demand-response programs to help customers reduce natural gas consumption” will help the city and state achieve their climate goals.

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