The Future of New York City Emissions & Energy Regulations
While New York City building owners prepare to deal with the Climate Mobilization Act (LL97/2019) and the start of annual emissions fines fines January 1, 2024, the City has issued another, and even more extraordinary, plan for future emissions reductions. The new plan called OneNYC 2050 outlines a very aggressive transformation of energy production and consumption which culminates in an "all-electric" New York City, one with zero fossil fuels, by 2050.
The OneNYC 2050 plan for New York City, issued in April 2019, states, “With bold actions to confront our climate crisis, achieve equality, and strengthen our democracy, we are building a strong and fair city.” In addition to being a vision to fight climate change, OneNYC also provides future solutions for immigration, wage fairness, healthcare, education and the City’s infrastructure and transportation. From an emissions and energy perspective, OneNYC is as forward leaning a plan as any offered by a major city.
While the 2019 New York City Climate Mobilization Act has the goal of reducing citywide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, OneNYC calls for carbon neutrality (zero net GHG emissions) citywide by 2050 with 100% of the City’s electricity coming from “clean” sources. The plan says:
“We [NYC] must achieve carbon neutrality…. This will require a radical shift to end our reliance on fossil fuels and ensure 100 percent clean electricity resources, and to transform the city’s buildings, energy, transportation, and waste sectors to fully electrify the city. While half of our electricity is generated within city limits, electricity generated outside New York City reaches the city through a network of high-voltage transmission power lines… but the power lines that bring clean electricity from upstate to New York City are at capacity, so very little can reach the city... we will need to build more transmission into New York City.”
This would indeed be a radical shift for all residents, workers and property owners in New York City. Fossil fuels are pervasive in city life, and converting to an all-electric city would impact many facets of life, including:
Heating & Cooling
To consider the realities of eliminating all fossil fuel use in the City, one might simply look at the magnitude and cost of such an effort and its likely effect on future electricity costs.
To begin with, an all-electric NYC requires eliminating all of the current fossil fuel electricity generation. This is roughly 4,000 MW or about half of the average daily non-summer peak consumption. New, clean electrical generation generally means wind, solar, hydro or nuclear none of which can be deployed in any quantity that would begin to offset the current 4,000 MW of fossil generation in the City.
The all-electric solution requires 4,000 MW of, new or existing unused, clean-generated electricity be brought into the City via new transmission lines from remote locations. This isn’t the end of the situation, however.
Besides generating electricity in the City, fossil fuels provide the vast majority of buildings with space and hot water heating, contribute significantly to the City’s building air conditioning and power a huge portion of the transportation. Electrification of the City would require virtually all heating systems, boilers, hot water heaters, chillers, district steam, cars, taxis, buses and some rail service be converted to electric power. This would substantially increase the demand for electricity and new transmission lines beyond the 4,000 MW above.
Going all-electric will also require major modifications to the City’s infrastructure. The capacity of the electrical distribution system would need to be upgraded to handle the increase in electrical load. In some areas, this might mean a four-fold increase, or more. Then, there’s the question about what happens to those buildings heavily dependent upon district steam.
Going all-electric is a worthy and intriguing idea. Implementing it, however, is fraught with challenges and increased costs since we have yet to reach a point where the alternatives to fossil fuels can provide the quantity, quality, reliability and resiliency of electrical supply we now take for granted.