ENERGY EFFICIENCY:

NYC sees economic boost in 'green building' effort

NEW YORK -- The federal stimulus package and the city's ambitious "green building" initiative should provide a jobs bonanza for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) specialists, city officials said yesterday.

Addressing HVAC specialists at a gathering here, a senior policy adviser for Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) said plans to bolster buildings' energy efficiency include a "green work force" package that relies on the City University of New York, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to train workers.

Bloomberg's "Greener, Greater Buildings Plan" was announced on Earth Day and focuses heavily on enhancing the energy efficiency of existing structures. City officials estimate that buildings are the source of about 80 percent of the city's greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan is "the first comprehensive plan of any city to address energy efficiency and greenhouse gases for the existing building sector," said the Bloomberg policy adviser, Laurie Kerr.

Kerr explained the various initiatives spelled out in the mayor's recent announcement and why they are good for ASHRAE, which sponsored the gathering yesterday. The overall goal: to cut total greenhouse gas output from city buildings by 5 percent by 2030, even after factoring in an additional 1 million residents that the city expects to add by then.

Among the aims in the greener building plan is the establishment of a "New York City Energy Code" that is tighter than the existing state code. Kerr said the state code contains a loophole that allows building owners making small-scale alternations to avoid spending on energy efficiency enhancements.

"That constitutes a significant proportion of work in New York City," said Deborah Taylor, chief sustainability officer with the New York City Department of Buildings. Taylor agreed that the loophole in the state's energy code significantly undermines city efforts to curb energy consumption.

The mayor's plan also calls for the city to pass an "audit and retrofit bill" that would require buildings with more than 50,000 square feet of floor space to undergo energy audits every 10 years, with mandatory fixes to be made if audits find that buildings do not comply with minimum energy efficiency standards. Large buildings would also be required to upgrade their lighting systems.

City officials said they are working on finding ways around some obstacles that could stand in the way of the mayor's plan coming to fruition. Aside from finding the funds to help kick-start green retrofits, the city needs to find a way to overcome the "split incentive" problem between tenants and landlords, whereby one may benefit from expensive upgrades made by the other.

Stimulus

But New York plans to tap federal stimulus cash to help move the plan forward, providing growing job opportunities for energy efficiency experts, Kerr said. Officials with the mayor's office also would like to comb existing codes to find ways of "greening" them, but they caution that they will need the cooperation of the City Council to make it happen.

"We expect to announce those proposals sometime this summer," Kerr said.

ASHRAE's president, William Harrison, reminded the group's members that they come across "horrible examples of energy waste" every day, and he feels their trade group is uniquely positioned to fix the problem on a national level.

"I'm delighted to see the leadership that New York is taking as we work to take energy out of buildings," Harrison said.

Harrison pointed to a variety of skills that his trade group's membership specializes in that can come into play as New York pushes through its environmental initiatives. HVAC engineers could employ envelope and pressure testing to determine how efficiently or inefficiently buildings are circulating air, possibly uncovering simple and inexpensive fixes, he said.

Taylor at the city Department of Buildings called last week's announcement "an impressive legislative package" that complements existing provisions in the mayor's earlier PlaNYC initiatives, such as property tax abatements for green roofs.

But she cautioned officials and building retrofit professionals that much rests on decisions that have to be made by state government officials in Albany. State grants created under the federal stimulus law require the governor's office to agree on adopting the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code for residential buildings and the ASHRAE 90.1 standards for commercial buildings, she noted.