Friday, September 22, 2017

Cities Cracking Down on Climate Law-Breakers

New York's Hearst Tower was built to use 26 percent less energy than required by code, with an emphasis on natural lighting and temperature controls and sensors to reduce waste. The mayor's proposed energy code updates aim to reduce energy use in more buildings. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty
To mitigate climate change, cities need to target buildings—the "mother lode" of greenhouse gas emissions, as New York Mayor Bill De Blasio called them last week.
At a news conference, he announced a pathbreaking proposal to set stricter energy efficiency standards in the city's aging buildings—and to fine building owners who don't comply with the codes.
Other cities may need to crack down, too, if they are to meet their climate goals. Across the U.S., cities have pledged to reduce emissions, with some (like New York) aiming ambitiously for 80 percent reductions by 2050.
"If you're a city that's concerned about climate change, you have to focus on buildings, because that's where the carbon is," says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on climate and energy.
Building energy codes—and the ability to strengthen them—are among the most powerful tools cities have to improve energy efficiency, Majersik says. But even as municipal leaders tout energy efficiency, many aren't doing enough to ensure that their existing energy codes are followed. Cities may need to adopt stronger tactics to translate climate goals into real energy savings and ensure builders aren't gaming the system.
In New York, a quarter of the city's emissions come from 14,500 buildings over 25,000 square feet in size. The city earmarked $2.7 billion in its capital budget to retrofit its own buildings, and more than 1,600 municipal and public housing buildings have been upgraded. Now, the mayor wants to force privately owned buildings to meet the same strict standards with new boilers, windows and insulation. In the long term, such measures save money through lower utility bills, but getting to that point can be a battle.
The city has already had to adopt tougher tactics to make new buildings and renovations comply with its existing codes.
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