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New York Local Law 97: Its Implications & Opportunities


Local Law 97 (LL97), which requires NYC buildings over 25,000 sq.ft. to significantly reduce their carbon emissions, will notably impact higher education campuses in NYC starting next year. There are potential costs to address these requirements and significant fines for noncompliance.

Investments in more efficient HVAC systems, intelligent building control systems, LED lighting and renewable energy systems combined with energy storage could greatly reduce, if not eliminate, annual fines that could otherwise run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more for exceeding mandated emissions limits. Just as important, these investments can facilitate more comfortable and attractive learning environments that offer lasting value.

Campus Buildings That Must Comply
Starting in January 2024, LL97 requires annual tracking of campus building emissions. The first report is due in May 2025 and every May thereafter. LL97 requirements become increasingly strict, aiming for virtually emissions free buildings by 2050.

A campus served by a single utility meter, potentially because it has a central energy plant, only has to file one report each year. If each building is served by its own utility meter, individual reports per building need to be filed.

City-owned properties have to meet more accelerated emission-reduction targets and timelines compared to privately-owned properties; however, LL97 also states that “the term ‘city building’ shall not include any senior college in the City University of New York system.” (Article 320: 2022 NYC Administrative Code) Those senior colleges must meet the same LL97 requirements as private properties. State (e.g., State University of New York buildings) and federally-owned buildings are exempt from LL97.

Generating Productive, Near-Term Impact
Higher education campuses have multiple opportunities to benefit from the changes required by LL97. Baselining energy use is a great place to start to identify the most impactful, near-term opportunities to reduce emissions and energy costs. They can also be used to calculate current carbon emissions relative to LL97 requirements and potential fine exposure.

In-building data and analytics metering hardware, along with an online portal, can capture, aggregate, and display real-time energy usage data across multiple buildings and provide more actionable information. For example, building managers can see energy usage patterns change throughout the day, and then adjust processes to times when energy charges are lower.

While facilities managers optimize building systems on a regular basis, LL97 provides a good opportunity to step back and look at the broader system. HVAC and associated control systems optimization will generally provide the biggest savings for the lowest cost. A review of original system settings/design parameters will help, as many times modifications to correct localized issues result in unintended or unknown negative impacts elsewhere.

Implementing LEDs and control systems that turn lights off when rooms are unoccupied is another near-term opportunity.

Campuses can also implement battery-powered maintenance vehicles and install EV charging stations to support them, as well as student and staff personal EVs.

Managing Near-Term ‘Gotchas’
Any new initiative has potential ‘gotchas’ to anticipate and avoid. As campuses consider increasing electrification (e.g., installing electric heat pumps, EV charging), they should speak with their local utility to ensure it has enough substation capacity, particularly if higher peak demands are possible. Further energy optimization could create additional headroom to avoid that possibility.

Also, ‘futureproofing’ new implementations as much as possible is helpful. When Requests for Proposal are issued, they should invite vendors to explain how their proposed solutions can adapt with changes. Because it’s hard to predict the future, proposed solutions should demonstrate flexibility and adaptability regarding future regulation changes and upcoming technology developments.

Adding Longer-Term Value
To enhance the longer-term value of campus buildings while reducing carbon emissions, institutions can add lower carbon energy sources onsite. This includes PV solar, energy and thermal storage. Onsite EVs can also be an onsite energy resource.

The right combination of energy resources (e.g. solar + battery + EV charging) depends upon a variety of factors. Solar PV canopy systems can utilize campus spaces where ground-mounted systems cannot. For example, a canopy system would allow campuses to retain almost all existing parking spaces, while providing some weather protection for the vehicles underneath.

For further efficiency and carbon reduction, onsite energy sources can potentially be aggregated across campus buildings to create a ‘virtual power plant’ (VPP). VPPs enable buildings to reduce reliance on grid power by sharing onsite, flexible energy capacity among multiple buildings. In turn, campuses can reduce the amount of grid energy they purchase, utilize stored energy that otherwise would have been wasted, enhance campus resiliency, and potentially reduce carbon emissions.

Funding Emissions Reduction Measures
Higher education institutions can utilize various utility, state and federal energy efficiency and clean energy programs to help cover emission reduction costs.

For continuing education, NYSERDA has funding to support programs for facilities managers. And, aligned with its educational mission, a university could offer classes that attract facility managers from all over.

Demand side management programs offered by the local utility and from the NYS electric grid operator offer payments for curtailing energy usage during peak demand periods and system emergencies. Payments could potentially generate tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

There is also unprecedented alignment between federal, state, and local government incentives to help fund clean energy initiatives. For example, it’s possible that 50% or more of project costs for implementing a 60-kW solar system could be covered by combining state and federal incentives.

Pending LL97 Updates
Recently proposed clarifications regarding ‘Good Faith Efforts’ would mitigate potential fines and address how to earn credits for ‘Beneficial Electrification,’ among other items. Proposals are expected to be finalized by December 2023.

Universities could have a win-win-win scenario in meeting LL97 requirements. The concepts presented above could not only help meet city objectives, but could also improve campus facilities, make them more attractive to students and educators, and provide new sources of income for an institution, while also supporting grid and campus resiliency.

Arthur Pearson is Regulatory Affairs Lead at Blueprint Power, which helps building owners harness their buildings’ flexible energy capacity to generate new cash flows, reduce carbon emissions, and increase site resiliency.