New York City is the U.S.’s largest metropolis, over twice the size of second spot Los Angeles, and is still growing. It has just passed a bill that effectively stops new buildings from hooking up to the gas network. The significance is not simply because of NYC’s global prominence, but because it gets very cold in winter with average temperatures just above freezing point. The move is a major win for the electrification of buildings. The prohibition starts in 2024 for buildings under seven stories and mid-2027 for taller buildings. Yu Ann Tan, Amar Shah and Talor Gruenwald at RMI summarise the initiative, with research to back up the promise of emissions cuts and air pollution improvements. On top of that, it could also yield hundreds of millions of dollars in savings by avoiding spending on new gas connections. Other U.S. cities have already taken the same decision, but none as large and iconic as the Big Apple.
The New York City Council passed a landmark bill (Introduction 2317) in December that requires new buildings to be free of fossil fuels, including natural gas. The bill’s passage represents a landmark moment for the electrification movement: the first all-electric new construction policy in America’s largest city, and a cold-climate city at that.
New York City buildings are a significant source of carbon emissions. In terms of emissions from on-site fossil fuel use in buildings, New York City ranks higher than 41 US states. All-electric buildings reduce emissions substantially compared to those that burn fossil fuels, and the emissions benefits in New York City will only increase as the grid there rapidly decarbonises. It’s also cheaper to build all-electric homes from the outset in New York and most other states, providing a win for the climate and the economy.
What the bill does
The NYC policy would set a carbon emissions limit that effectively prohibits on-site fossil fuel use in new construction. The prohibition starts in 2024 for buildings under seven stories and mid-2027 for taller buildings, with modified timelines for affordable housing (2026 and 2028, respectively).
Carbon and cost savings for New York City
The climate benefits of Introduction 2317 would be substantial: about 2.1 million tons of carbon emissions would be saved by 2040, equivalent to the annual emissions of 450,000 cars. The change could also yield several hundred million dollars in ratepayer savings by 2040, due to avoided spending on new gas connections.
Just as importantly, electrifying New York City buildings will bring far-reaching benefits, from better health and air quality to improving environmental justice and climate equity. New York State is the worst in the nation for premature mortality from building-related air pollution; as the state’s largest city, NYC has the most to gain from extinguishing fossil fuels in its new buildings.
In passing such a bill, New York City would join a growing list of cities that no longer permit new gas hookups or strongly discourage them, becoming a leader in moving toward a cleaner, all-electric future.
Emissions impacts are based on RMI analysis of fossil fuel consumption of new buildings from the US Energy Information Administration and Local Law 84 data, forward-looking electric grid emissions factors from NREL’s 2020 Cambium dataset (100 year GWP), and historical new construction volumes from the NYC Department of City Planning’s Housing Database. The analysis assumes that buildings are constructed two years after permits are granted.
Ratepayer savings estimates are directional, based on RMI analysis of new construction from the NYC Department of City Planning’s Housing Database, residential gas customer connection costs from ConEd (as cited in NY-GEO’s 100-foot rule testimony to the New York PSC, 2020), and national sources for gas connection costs beyond single-family residential. Estimates have also been compared with NY-GEO’s top-down estimates of all downstate ratepayer spending on new gas connection infrastructure.
Yu Ann Tan is an Associate, Carbon-Free Buildings at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)
Amar Shah is a Manager, Carbon-Free Buildings at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)
Talor Gruenwald is an Associate, Carbon-Free Buildings at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)
This article was first published on RMI.org and has been reprinted with permission