thoughts on our urban future

PlaNYC (4) – Climate change and the future of urban energy

And so my little series comes full circle as I end where I began, looking at what PlaNYC has to say about energy use in the city and addressing climate change looking towards 2030.  There are very few governmental bodies with stated aggressive targets for carbon emission reductions post Kyoto.  The UK is one of the few nations to have adopted binding emission reductions to a high level- 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 with substantial progress by 2030.  I’ve seen other schemes like 10:10 taken up in various parts of the world, but that was just one year.

If you have been reading this series, it is also interesting to note that last week Mayor Bloomberg released an update to PlaNYC which is available from the main PlaNYC site.  This strengthens my view about how this policy is being enacted and made available to the public.  It shows that this is ‘active’ policy, not just rhetoric.  If there is a main lesson to be learned from this substantial piece of policy, it is to understand just what it takes in order to get an integrated and active bit of forward looking policy off the ground and running.  This is not the effort of a single individual or a single body of governance but is rather the driver for an entire city government that structures many of its departments and funding streams to a singular, detailed, and articulated series of goals.  And it is for this reason, in contrast, that I am particularly distraught by the UK proposal for more and more ‘localism’ because I don’t understand how these sorts of issues that New York City is addressing can be tackled by individual pockets of localism.  I believe that it takes a large focus and investment to drive this kind of change and adaptation, although obviously how individual pieces are implemented in neighborhoods should of course be done with the partnership and involvement of the local community, it takes a wider vision to consider the city.  Or that’s my take on things.

But back to energy and climate change, the final part of the PlaNYC strategy and motivation.  The plan clearly recognizes climate change and its predicted consequences and states that every action discussed in the plan has a subsequent carbon consequence, therefore asserting that every initiative within the plan is actually a step towards addressing climate change.  Although it is not a stated initiative, the plan sets out a 30% emission reduction below 2005 levels by 2030.  The three listed initiatives towards addressing climate change are:

  1. Create an inter-agency task force to protect the city’s vital infrastructure: Expand the adaptation strategies beyond the protection of water supply, sewer, and wastewater treatment systems to include all essential city infrastructure.
  2. Work with vulnerable neighborhoods to develop site-specific protection strategies:Create a community planning process and “toolkit” to engage all stakeholders in community-specific climate adaptation strategies.
  3. Launch a city wide strategic planning process for climate change adaptation: Create a strategic planning process to adapt to climate change impacts; ensure that New York’s Federal Emergency Management Administration 100-year floodplain maps are updated; document the City’s floodplain management strategies to secure discounted flood insurance for New Yorkers; amend the building code to address the impacts of climate change.

As with all other initiatives, there is a progress chart posted which shows that two of the above targets have been achieved, three are not yet achieved, and one has been reconsidered.  In the Energy section, the plan lays out a program for tackling future energy costs and issues by establishing a two-pronged approach – by tackling energy generation and by reducing energy demand.  The initiatives set out in the plan for energy are:

  1. Establish a NYC energy planning board:Work with the State and utilities to centralize planning for the city’s supply and demand initiatives.
  2. Reduce energy consumption by city government:Commit 10% of the City’s annual energy bill to fund energy-saving investments in City operations.
  3. Strengthen energy codes in NYC:Strengthen energy and building codes to support energy efficiency strategies and other environmental goals.
  4. Create an energy efficiency authority for NYC:Create the New York City Efficiency Authority responsible for reaching the city’s demand reduction targets.
  5. Prioritize five key areas for targeted incentives:Use a series of mandates, challenges, and incentives to reduce demand among the city’s largest energy consumers.
  6. Expand promote peak load management:Expand participation in Peak Load Management Programs through smart meters; and support expansion of real-time pricing across the city.
  7. Launch an energy awareness and training campaign:Increase the impact of our energy efficiency efforts through a coordinated energy education, awareness, and training campaign.
  8. Facilitate re-powering and construction of power plants:Facilitate the construction of 2,000 to 3,000 MW of supply capacity by re-powering old plants, constructing new ones, and building dedicated transmission lines.
  9. Expand ‘clean distributed generation’:Increase the amount of Clean DG by 800 MW; and promote opportunities to develop district energy at appropriate sites in New York City.
  10. Support expansion of gas infrastructure:Support critical expansions to the city’s natural gas infrastructure.
  11. Foster the market for renewable energy:Create a property tax abatement for solar panel installations; study the cost-effectiveness of solar electricity when evaluated on a Real Time Pricing scenario; support the construction of the city’s first carbon neutral building, primarily powered by solar electricity; increase use of solar energy in City buildings through creative financing; work with the State to eliminate barriers to increasing the use of solar energy in the city; pilot one or more technologies for producing energy from solid waste; end methane emissions from sewage treatment plants and expand the productive use of digester gas; study the expansion of gas capture and energy production from existing landfills.
  12. Accelerate reliability improvements to the city’s grid:Advocate for Con Edison to implement recommendations from the City’s report on the northwest Queens power outages.
  13. Facilitate grid repairs through improved coordination and joint bidding:Pursue the passage of joint bidding legislation; and ensure adequate pier facilities are available to Con Edison to offload transformers and other equipment.
  14. Support Con Edison’s efforts to modernize the grid:Support Con Edison’s 3G System of the Future Initiative.

11 of the above targets have been marked in the progress report as achieved, 2 are marked as mostly achieved, 8 are marked as not yet achieved, and 3 are marked as n/a or reconsidered.

One of the things that the plan has enabled is to pass a law that required the city to complete an annual comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions inventory.  This plan shows where the emissions are coming from in the city and also details the city’s own activities which lead to the generation of GHG’s.  After the fourth year of this program, the numbers show significant reductions both citywide and from municipal emissions.  So far, citywide emissions are 12.9% below 2005 levels and this rate is considered ‘on target’ to reach the reduction requirements.

So NYC, an already relatively ‘good’ place for carbon emissions has shown that reductions are possible.  In fact I would argue that most residents of the city have no idea that these policies are in place and that their overall emissions are reducing.  There is so much backlash when it comes to emission reduction, but if it is done at a larger scale, a city or region can benefit from coordinated effort with minimal burden to individual citizens.

Of course this level of reduction will not be enough to meet the sorts of targets that the UN suggests are necessary to arrest climate change, but it is a massive start, and much more than what any other city that I know of is doing.  Once this sort of policy works its way into every aspect of governmental activity, it will not be much more difficult to implement when targets may need to change or increase.  This sort of policy is as much a training program for the entire NYC government as it is an active tool for making change.  We need ways to bring about behavior change and knowledge exchange in officials as much as we do in individuals and this plan and program seems like it will do just that, although only time will tell.

I will be interested in following the continual progress of PlaNYC.  As I said at the start of this series, I know of no other city with such progressive and well articulated policy towards preparing for the future.  NYC said that it wanted to lead by example, and as far as I can tell, it certainly is.  I await other global international cities to show how they too will rise to the call, to show us if there is another way, to work on their own detailed and aggressive policies.  Until then, there is much to be learned from NYC’s example.

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1 Comment

  1. Kayla – I have been reading your series and find it well thought out and encouraging. I have felt for some time that we need a unified high level (atleast city wide – preferrably national and hopefully global).approach to energy and infrastructure issues. Glad to see younger minds than I who see this acurately and are actually DOING something.

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