On Earth Day, April 22, 2009, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced four proposed bills aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions (“GHG”) from existing public and private (including both commercial and residential) buildings in New York City. The proposed bills were launched in conjunction with two proposed plans under the PlaNYC initiative which calls for New York City to reduce its GHG emissions by 30% by 2030. Buildings account for 79% of New York City’s GHG emissions.  

The proposed bills relate to (i) energy audits and related building retrofits; (ii) benchmarking energy efficiency; (iii) a NYC Energy Code; and (iv) lighting system upgrades. None of the proposed bills have yet been enacted. Since these bills amend Chapter 3 of the New York City Construction Code, they appear to have limited enforcement mechanisms.  

Impact on Private Building Owners

Energy Audit Bill Of the four bills, the Energy Audit Bill has the greatest potential impact on owners of existing buildings. It requires the owners of all classes of buildings exceeding 50,000 square-feet to conduct an energy audit every ten years. The audits must identify retro-commissioning and retrofit measures, estimate the costs and energy savings of such measures and identify optimum bundling of such measures. The audits must be performed by persons who qualify as energy professionals. Owners are legally required to undertake all improvements recommended by the audit that will pay for themselves in less than five years through energy cost-savings. The bill will take effect immediately after enactment, but no energy audit reports will be required before Dec. 31, 2013. The audits requirements will be staggered over a ten-year period with the implementation schedule to be developed by the City’s Sustainability Office.  

Benchmarking Bill

The Benchmarking Bill proposes to require the owners of all classes of buildings exceeding 50,000 square-feet to benchmark building energy and, in certain cases, water efficiency by July 1, 2010, and annually thereafter. When buildings have commercial spaces that are separately metered, owners will be expected to obtain energy usage information from their tenants, and tenants will be expected to provide such information to landlords by Feb. 15th of the year when the owner is required to benchmark the building. Owners are also required to request such information from tenants upon learning that a tenant will vacate the premises. The failure of tenants to provide the required information shall not relieve a building owner of the responsibility of complying with its benchmarking obligations. Owners must retain benchmarking records as well as make results available for upload onto the U.S. EPA website and/or any complementary interfaces developed by the City of New York.

NYC Energy Code Bill

Under this bill, an NYC Energy Conservation Code would become effective Jan. 1, 2010. The proposed NYC Energy Conservation Code will parallel the recently revised New York State Energy Conservation Construction Code that provides and will remove a loophole which exempts all buildings from compliance unless they are undergoing major renovations. Upon any building renovation, the NYC Energy Conservation Code will require building owners to conform their buildings (of any size) to a minimum set of energy efficiency standards.  

Lighting and Electrical System Bill

In the case of any building renovations exceeding $50,000, the proposed Lighting and Electrical System Bill requires owners of buildings of 50,000 square-feet or more to upgrade the buildings to comply with the NYC Energy Conservation Code standards for new electrical and lighting systems, regardless of whether the renovation involves electrical work. For renovations contained within a permanently partitioned space, only the partitioned space is subject to the lighting and electrical upgrade requirement. If enacted, the Lighting and Electrical System Bill will be effective after July 1, 2010.  

Energy Upgrade Loans

In addition to these four bills, New York City will establish a revolving loan fund using $16 million in federal money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The loans are intended to provide assistance to owners who demonstrate financial need or have already completed an energy audit. They may be used to pay the upfront costs of efficiency upgrades. Energy savings data will be collected to encourage private-sector lending in the long-term.