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New York City Requires Lighting Upgrades in Largest Buildings

People live and work in more than one million buildings in New York City. These buildings consume $15 billion in energy each year and produce 75% of the City’s carbon emissions.

To help achieve the PlaNYC goal of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gases by the year 2030, on December 9, 2009, the New York City Council enacted ambitious legislation targeting energy consumption in buildings. Recognizing that 85% of the buildings that exist today will still be in use in 2030, the Council is focusing on existing buildings. New York’s 22,000 largest buildings, concentrated largely in Manhattan, account for roughly 45% of total floorspace and energy consumption, and were specifically targeted by the legislation to make the biggest impact for the smallest amount of government intervention.

Int. No. 476 requires large building owners to make an annual benchmark analysis of energy consumption so that owners, tenants and potential tenants can compare buildings’ energy consumption.

Int. No. 967 requires large private buildings to conduct energy audits once every 10 years and implement energy-efficient maintenance practices. City-owned buildings larger than 10,000 sq.ft. must conduct audits and complete energy-efficient retrofits that pay for themselves within seven years.

Int. No. 564 creates a New York City Energy Code that existing buildings must meet when they conduct renovations, closing the loophole that allows building systems to perpetuate non-compliant systems if they perform renovations on less than half of a given building system.

And Int. 973 requires large commercial buildings to upgrade their lighting. Specifically, the law applies to buildings larger than 50,000 sq.ft., buildings combining with other buildings on the same tax lot to exceed 100,000 sq.ft. in total, and buildings held in the condominium form of ownership governed by the same board of managers and together exceed 100,000 sq.ft. in total.

The law defines a lighting upgrade as meeting the minimum requirements of the New York City Energy Conservation Code. Exceptions include residential living spaces; spaces serving these living spaces such as laundry rooms, boiler rooms and hallways, stairways and corridors used for egress; emergency or security areas; assembly spaces in houses of worship; and lighting that meets code installed on or after July 1, 2010. The code itself has its own exceptions.

The New York City Energy Conservation Code is based on the New York State energy code, with amendments making it more stringent. The lighting section of the Code includes mandatory and prescriptive requirements for lighting controls (interior lighting controls, light level reduction controls and automatic lighting shutoff), tandem wiring, exit signs, interior lighting power caps and exterior lighting.

To demonstrate compliance, the owner must file a report with the New York City Department of Buildings, prepared by a registered design professional or a licensed master or special electrician, certifying that the lighting upgrade has been completed and that the work is in compliance with the technical standards of the New York City electrical code.

Another provision in this law requires these buildings to submeter tenant spaces larger than 10,000 sq.ft. and provide this information to the tenants, including monthly statements of electricity consumption and costs.

Critics of the legislation say building owners have too long to upgrade their lighting and that it lacks a mechanism forcing them to do it. Proponents of the legislation welcome what is arguably the country’s most ambitious initiative to increase the energy efficiency of existing buildings, where energy efficiency measures can have the biggest impact.

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