NYC Plans Building Energy Overhaul


Aiming to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050, New York City's mayor has unveiled a sweeping plan to retrofit thousands of public and private buildings.

Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced the plan Tuesday (Sept. 23) in his opening remarks at the U.N. Climate Summit. The plan's energy targets sync with those set by the U.N. for developed nations, making New York City the largest city in the world to make the pledge.

The plan focuses on making city-owned buildings more energy efficient by enacting strict regulations on new buildings and retrofitting existing ones, especially schools and the city's aging stock of public housing.

Public Building Overhaul

The program will mandate upgrades to every public building with significant energy use—about 3,000 buildings in all—by 2025, to "make our public buildings models of energy efficiency and renewable energy generation," according to the program's website.

The plan includes:

  • Investing in "high-value efficiency upgrades" in 150 to 200 city schools, firehouses, hospitals, police precincts, libraries and homeless shelters per year for the next 10 years;
  • Energy upgrades in 450 schools over the next five years;
  • Increasing solar and renewable energy, beginning with 24 schools and installing solar on more than 300 city buildings over the next decade; and
  • Hiring additional operations and maintenance staff and expanding training programs for the city’s building operators.
Edward A Reynolds West Side HS
NYC Department of Education

Hundreds of schools across New York City will receive energy upgrades in the next five years under the "Built to Last" program announced by Mayor DeBlasio.

The upgrades will be determined "through a competitive citywide process that identifies the most effective reduction measures," the city said.

Private Buildings: Targets and Mandates

Private buildings, meanwhile, will be "given ambitious target reductions and mandates if reductions are not met," according to the program, called "NYC: Built to Last: Transforming New York City's Buildings for a Low-Carbon Future."

A new "retrofit accelerator" plan will require buildings of more than 25,000 square feet to comply with energy-efficiency guidelines; previous mandates applied to buildings of more than 50,000 square feet.

Early estimates put the city's capital-improvement tab at $1 billion. Private-sector residential and commercial owners and developers will bear the cost of those improvements.

Buildings across New York City make up the overwhelming majority of its greenhouse gas emissions.

DeBlasio, however, says the construction investment will be offset by $8.5 billion in energy-cost savings over 10 years, operating savings, new economic development, increasing property values, and the creation of 3,500 new jobs in construction and energy services.

"Nearly three-quarters of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions come from energy used to heat, cool and power buildings, making building retrofits a central component of any plan to dramatically reduce emissions," the mayor's office said.

DeBlasio called action against global climate change a "moral imperative."

"By retrofitting all of our public buildings with significant energy use in the next 10 years, we’re leading by example," he said, "and by partnering with the private sector, we’ll reduce emissions and improve efficiency while generating billions in savings and creating thousands of jobs for New Yorkers who need it most.”

Public Housing Challenges

Public-housing retrofits will be a major component of the DeBlasio plan.

Greenhouse gas projections


New York City is the largest public-housing owner in the United States, with more than 400,000 New Yorkers living in 334 developments and 235,000 receiving rental assistance in private homes through the Section 8 program.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will dedicate a team to working with the New York City Housing Authority on its piece of the building energy plan, said HUD Secretary Julián Castro.

The New York City plan will likely take a page from HUD's Energy Performance Contracting plan, a financing technique that uses savings from reduced energy consumption to repay the cost of installing energy conservation measures.

Public-housing officials at every level say major energy savings are required to keep the systems sustainable.

NYC Public Housing
Wikimedia Commons

Making public housing more energy efficient is a critical component of keeping such systems sustainable, officials say. New York City is the largest public housing landlord in the U.S.


"As funding for public housing decreases, we must find creative ways to invest in our communities," Castro said in the mayor's office announcement of the plan. "Mayor de Blasio and I believe this initiative has great promise.

"Through these Energy Performance Contracts, HUD has already leveraged more than $1 billion across the country to retrofit aging public housing buildings, and we look forward to expanding this program in New York City through our partnership."

Download “One City: Built to Last (Transforming New York City’s Buildings for a Low-Carbon Future).”


Tagged categories: Building operations; Commercial Buildings; Energy codes; Energy efficiency; Government; Housing; Maintenance + Renovation; North America; Public Buildings; Residential; Retrofits; Schools

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