NY is electrifying FLEET vehicles, new buildings & existing BUILDINGs
A version of this story appeared originally in the journal Open Access Government in the UK.
“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” sang Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli in the late 1970s in a song called New York, New York. If California is the epicentre of hopes, dreams and big ideas, New York is where those ideas go to to be proven –to either die or take off on a global tour.
Shifting the world economy from relying on fossil fuels would have to be considered a big idea. It’s almost certainly the most significant technological and economic disruption in human history, and will demand a rethink from all of us, and some clear signals from our leaders. New York City and New York State have taken definitive action.
NY City electric fleet vehicles
A hugely important, mostly untold story on the clean energy file is the battle to electrify New York City fleet vehicles undertaken by Lisette Camilo, Commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and her Deputy and Fleet Director Keith Kerman. They have not only overcome naysayers, but have proven their beliefs on the ground and with a load of data they’ve been collecting for the past five years.
Their current fleet includes 591 fully electric vehicles, 1328 hybrids, 690 charge stations within the city and 86 solar carports. The plan is to expand all of these, with the exception of hybrids. Fleet Director Keith Kerman says that with 80% fuel savings 65% less maintenance on fully electric, and no real maintenance saving on hybrids, the hybrid pilot is over. He is targeting 2,000 fully electric vehicles by 2025 and says the program will cut greenhouse gas emissions of the city’s overall fleet by 50% or more. If electric vehicles can make in New York, they can make it anywhere.
Other notable electric fleets in North America include Ryder Truck Rentals which has 150 fully electric vehicles operating, and 500 more on order, UPS and Frito Lay each with about 300, Vancouver and Los Angeles, each with about 100, DHL with 45, and an undisclosed number for Pacific Gas & Electric, that is reportedly in the hundreds. Los Angeles and other cities are also completing pilots with fully electric garbage trucks, fire trucks, and ambulances.
Electric buses: America has been late to the electric bus party, compared with some countries, but is now beginning to order in numbers. New York has 5700 diesel buses and has begun converting the entire fleet to fully electric buses, with 2040 as the target completion date. Los Angeles will convert 2300 buses by 2030. San Francisco has established 2035 for its 1100 bus fleet to stop using diesel fuel.
Big apple buildings
Collectively called the Climate Mobilization Act, new big apple regulations include one that mandates deep emission cuts with punishing fines for non-compliance. Landlords will be required to retrofit buildings with new windows, heating systems, and insulation to reduce greenhouse gas 40% by 2030, and twice this amount by 2050. The city says it will create more than 3600 jobs per year in construction, and 4400 jobs in maintenance, services, and operations.
Other bills create a renewable energy loan program and require some buildings to cover roofs with vegetation, solar panels, and/or small wind turbines. Another goes to the very heart of it, establishing a research team to look at closing all 24 oil and gas burning power plants within the city limits and replacing them with clean alternatives. Renewables-plus-batteries will easily win that one on economic grounds.
Along with New York, cities that want to be a part of it are implementing progressive building packages. They include Austin, Boston, Boulder, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Portland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Seattle, Washington DC, Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.
The city that never sleeps has a big idea for a brand new start, and it’s sending it on a global tour.
New York State heating
Meanwhile, a standoff between the public, the New York state government and regional utilities has been fascinating to watch. It began with utilities pressing for more gas pipelines, which was met with public outcry. New York and New Jersey residents have been learning about fossil fuels, especially since Hurricane Sandy sent a wave of water and a flooding downpour far inland in 2012.
During the past few years, geothermal trade groups have battled to keep their technology’s eligibility under the Federal 30% clean energy tax credit. Their efforts created public awareness of alternative heating and cooling options, in a region dominated by oil furnaces. When utilities threatened to institute a moratorium on new gas service connections in a Westchester County, just outside New York City, the state and the public called their bluff.
In December of 2018, Governor Cuomo announced adoption by the Public Service Commission of a new Energy Efficiency program, requiring utilities to install some 83,000 heat pump systems in the next five years. One industry leader says the target number for systems just in Westchester County exceeds the current total shipment of ground source equipment in the whole USA. The world is watching to see if a ramp up on this scale is achievable.
In February of 2019 the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) set aside its first $26 million incentive fund, providing rebates of $1200 – $1500 per ton for ground source systems. Funding is also being made available for installers, designers, inspectors, and accreditation programs through unions, colleges, trade groups and manufacturers.
A few years ago a private sector company called SolarCity created a homeowner financing scheme and repeatable model for rooftop solar, which turned a few thousand installations into hundreds of thousands around the USA. Again a federal 30% clean energy tax credit was a key enabler.
Some of the top personnel from SolarCity recently established Dandelion Energy, a Google-backed company in New York, which is now doing the same for geothermal. They started operations in August and are already installing thousands of retrofit systems, each worth about $15,000 after incentives. They provide financing to those who want it. It costs about $135 per month, less than owning an oil furnace.