Bloomberg Plans to Mandate Green Retrofits

 

Last updated: April 23, 2009  11:32am

By Cody Lyon


NEW YORK CITY-As showcased at SL Green Realty Corp.’s Earth Day celebration Wednesday, the inset of a 17th floor roof at the REIT’s 100 Park Ave. is covered with green vegetation that looks out of place among Midtown skyscraper peaks. The "green roof" installation, one of 14 at the newly retrofitted property, catches rain water, eliminating runoff and--unlike its heat radiating concrete neighbor roofs--naturally absorbs rays from the sun, helping cool the building’s interior. Retrofits like these may become a requirement citywide if the Bloomberg administration has its way.

Contained in the proposals announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday are mandates that require older buildings to invest in necessary technology and infrastructure that would increase energy efficiency and reduce the city’s carbon footprint. New York City’s buildings are responsible for 80% of its carbon emissions. The investments could prove costly, but promise tremendous savings in power bills for thousands of properties.

Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson Enesta Jones told GlobeSt.com that “New York City officials are joining a growing number of other local, state and Federal officials who have recognized that improving the efficiency of existing buildings will benefit all Americans by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and utility costs.

In a release, Bloomberg says his plan "will significantly improve economic competitiveness, put thousands of New Yorkers to work in green jobs, and do more to shrink our own direct impact on global warming than any other actions imaginable." Speaking to the perilous economic times, Mike Fishman, president of the Service Employees International Union’s Local 32BJ, the largest private sector union in New York, says in a statement that the initiative would "protect the environment, boost the real estate industry and get workers the training they need to get ahead."

Owners and industry groups agree that the city’s initiative is bold, but worry that it could prove intrusive. There are worries that a "one size fits all" approach by government may not prove effective in a city of such wide diversity within its building stock. "In a city with buildings as complex and diverse as New York City, each building’s situation is unique and the extent to which it can perform energy upgrades is best evaluated and acted upon by the owner and manager," says a statement from the Building Owners and Managers Association’s New York chapter.

There are building owners who say if they had more clear guidelines, they’d take on more aggressive green initiatives themselves. "If realistic guidelines are proposed to curtail energy consumption, then I believe there are enough building owners out there who are currently, or willing to undertake these initiatives," Edward Piccinich, EVP at SL Green, tells GlobeSt.com.

He adds that the majority of SL Green retrofits such as 100 Park "were initiated by the company, and not by an outside entity that was pitching us with idea of ‘going green.’" 100 Park is on its way to LEED Silver certification..

Piccinich theorizes that the best way for building owners and public officials to reach a consensus is to agree on timing. He adds that considering the current state of the economy and its foreseeable future, "it would be unfair to saddle any entity with additional costs in a short period of time." He says the green movement, in its latest form "came about due to public awareness and self initiative, not through mandates."

Among the Bloomberg administration’s proposed requirements--which will all be reviewed and hammered out in meetings with the real estate community, then ultimately aired in City Council sessions--are an energy conservation code and rules that require benchmarking of buildings’ energy efficiency. Beginning in 2013, audits of buildings of 50,000 square feet or more would be conducted every 10 years, with results determining which retrofits are required. There are 22,000 such buildings in the city.

EPA officials say the information provided by energy audits will “empower” building owners to act on that information. “As more buildings in New York City assess their energy use and recognize that they have improved efficiency, many will act on that information and will improve their performance as a result,” Jones tells GlobeSt.

The city says it will also establish a revolving loan fund that will use $16 million in federal money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that would be extended to owners demonstrating financial need or who have completed an energy audit. Energy savings data would be collected that would be used to encourage private sector lending in the long-term.

Among other measures in the initiative, green workforce training would help fill an estimated 19,000 construction jobs that would result from green construction work. "We are working with the city as far as workforce development,” Richard Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, tells GlobeSt.com. "I think they are going to work with unions, to the extent they can, with appropriate premise and training."

While saying the initiative has far reaching benefits for everyone living in, working in or even visiting the city, Anderson also has questions on the plan’s details. "As we move forward, we’ll have to work out how it will be financed, who’s going to oversee it and who will do the audits. I think the Bloomberg administration is not willing to have a self-audit process."

The construction industry, Anderson says, has a self certification process for design work "that has relieved the Department of Buildings of a lot of plan review and design review responsibilities. But there have been some abuses of that."

Amid concern over soured attitudes related to potential new citywide rules, there’s evidence that New York City’s private sector has been slow to green its buildings. For example, this past March, when the US Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its list of the top 25 cities with the most Energy Star qualified buildings of 2008, New York City ranked 12th, with 41.9 million square feet of floor space.

With 78 Energy Star buildings in its portfolio, New York lagged behind number one Los Angeles, home to 262 Energy Star buildings that contain 73 million square feet of floor space. While that could be partly attributed to the age of the building stock, Chicago’s similarly aged building stock contains 125 Energy Star buildings, while the much smaller Boston has 79.

The EPA says that as more buildings retrofit, they could find themselves earning the ENERGY STAR label for superior energy performance. “But, as the list shows, other cities are moving ahead with their own initiatives as well, so only time will tell who may make the next list.”

In the end, even critics of the plan say the city initiative is an idea whose time has come. A source close to BOMA tells GlobeSt.com, "there will be a series of meetings, they will sit down and say ‘it’s a great plan, now let’s make it work.’"

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