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PlaNYC's Energy Initiatives

by Worldchanging NYC local blogger, Patrick Di Justo:
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New York is already one of the most energy efficient places in the world. But that's not enough. The PlaNYC report calls for New York to become much more responsible in its energy use; not only to accommodate a 12 percent rise in population in the next 23 years without increasing its overall energy consumption, but also to help the planet by slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent -- 12 million tons every year between now and 2030.

The plan calls for retiring the oldest and dirtiest electricity generating plants in the city and replacing them with newer, cleaner power plants. To guarantee energy companies a return on such an enormous capital investment, the city plans to negotiate long term contracts to use the power generated by those newer plants. Changes to the city permit and licensing procedures will allow for more locally-based mini power plants - small generators or fuel cells, running on natural gas, serving a single large building or housing development -- to the tune of approximately 1 gigawatt of distributed generating capacity by 2030.

One major part of the efficiency program is a requirement to reduce energy use by the city government. Central to this plan is an amendment to the city charter that will require the city to spend 10 percent of its energy costs to reduce the energy used by city operations, and to challenge businesses and residents to become more efficient as well. (One interesting tidbit from the report: if compact fluorescents replaced 75 percent of all incandescent residential lights in the city, the energy savings would be enough to run the entire subway infrastructure.)

One way to increase energy efficiency will be a change to the NYC building code. The first major code revision in 40 years, which goes into effect this summer, will provide rebates for green building features, requirements for cool roofs, and more stringent ventilation standards. Periodic three-year reviews of the code will get progressively greener, emphasizing energy efficiency strategies and streamlining the process for using sustainable technologies in building construction.

PlaNYC also calls for the adoption of smart electric meters in all residences, to allow citizens to keep track of how much their electricity costs hour by hour. In a 2002 pilot program, residents of four buildings across the city using realtime metering managed to cut their electricity bills by 25 percent -- not by using less electricity, but by using it off-peak, when demand (and prices) are low. When you learn that using the dishwasher costs 5 times as much at 4 PM then it does at 11 PM, it's easy to wait.

The plan calls for tax abatements for buildings that install renewable energy systems, such as small scale solar or wind. (Surprisingly, the city has no intention of encouraging large-scale wind systems offshore.) Also, the city plans to expand its sewage gas capture program, most of which is currently used to power the sewage plants themselves, and to mine the Fresh Kills landfill for the natural gas it gives off.

And finally, PlaNYC calls for the establishment of two new agencies to focus energy initiatives: a New York City Energy Planning Board, which would work with the State and utilities to centralize planning for the city's supply and demand programs, and a New York City Energy Efficiency Authority that would be responsible for attaining the city's energy demand reduction targets .

With the above initiatives, along with infrastructure changes like increased efficiency in electrical transmission lines and wider natural gas distribution, PlaNYC is the blueprint for ensuring that a city known for its endless energy stays that way.

Image: Compact flourescent light bulb/Piccolo Namek, Wikimedia Commons

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