Author Archives: Abbey Brown

New Case Study: Collaboration was Key in NYC Clean Heat Success

Source: Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia Commons

Source: Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia Commons

Recently, EDF and The Intersector Project teamed up to create a case study on the NYC Clean Heat program, a collaborative effort that included partners from private real estate interests, New York City, oil companies, and the Environmental Defense Fund. The program began in 2007 to improve the city’s air quality and the case study highlights the inter-workings of this cross-sector collaboration that has made NYC Clean Heat such a success.

The NYC Clean Heat project achieved success by transitioning over 3,300 buildings off of No. 6 and No. 4 oil (used to heat residential and commercial buildings in the winter), removing more than 300 tons of soot (PM2.5) from the air New Yorkers breathe. As a result, from 2011 to 2012, New York City was ranked number four for the cleanest air in the nation. Read More »

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Scaling NYC Clean Heat’s Unique Public-Private Partnership for Energy Efficiency

Abbey Brown PhotoRecently, New Yorkers bid farewell to our Mayor of twelve years, Mike Bloomberg. Under Bloomberg’s prevue, EDF helped catalyze the NYC Clean Heat program – which led to the cleanest air the City has seen in the last fifty years. Through NYC Clean Heat’s efforts over the past few years to phase out the use of highly-polluting No. 6 heating oil in more than 3,000 buildings across NYC, sulfur pollution fell by more than two-thirds while soot pollution dropped by a quarter.

NYC Clean Heat has made great strides in helping buildings become cleaner and more efficient, but there is still much work to be done. EDF is wasting no time in capitalizing on the effective public-private partnership we helped assemble of community and union leaders, policymakers and leaders in the utility, real estate and finance sectors to bring more environmental and public health gains to the City. Our next target:  All that energy wasted by old and inefficient buildings.

Nearly 40% of U.S. energy is consumed by residential and commercial buildings, which are responsible for more than a third of our country’s greenhouse gases.  The building sector presents one of the greatest untapped opportunities for major gains in energy savings and pollution reductions over the next several years.  Read More »

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EDF-Led Public-Private Coalition a Model for Cities around the World

Abbey BrownBy now you might have heard the story.  Andy Darrell and his fellow colleagues in EDF’s New York office were staring out the window of their office near Gramercy Park several years ago when they noticed thick plumes of black smoke rising from a nearby building.  As New York regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund and a member of outgoing Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC Sustainability Advisory Board, it struck Andy that they could actually do something about it.  Embarking on a plan that aimed to phase out the City’s dirtiest heating oils, the successful EDF-led NYC Clean Heat campaign was born.

This story officially entered New York City environmental lore when New York Magazine included it in the annual Reasons to Love New York issue as “Reason 19. Because Our Air Is the Cleanest It’s Been in 50 Years.”  The recent article describes the public-private coalition of city officials, lawmakers, non-profits and private sector banks that came together for a $100 million financing program that would help building owners make the transition to cleaner fuels.  The result: around 3,000 buildings have converted to cleaner fuels, which has been the primary driver in reducing sulfur-dioxide pollution by nearly 70 percent. Read More »

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WATCH: NYC Clean Heat Video

EDF’s US Climate and Energy Program takes to the airwaves

A lot has been happening with NYC Clean Heat lately.  We have converted over 1,200 boilers to the cleanest available fuels and we have reduced over 150 tons of soot pollution, or particulate matter (PM2.5), from the air.  That number is equivalent to removing over 800,000 light-duty passenger vehicles from the road for one year, or over 13 billion miles traveled!

And now we’re taking to the airwaves.  We created a video to showcase our achievements and create a new outreach tool to propel us to our next accomplishment.

Source: NYC Clean Heat

To give you a little background, NYC’s Department of Health estimates that achieving our goal, reducing soot pollution by replacing highly-polluting No. 6 and No. 4 heating oils to the cleanest available fuels, will result in over 120 lives saved each year and prevent hundreds of emergency room visits and hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.  Approximately 1,500 buildings still need to complete conversions by the end of the year, and, roughly 2,000 permits for No. 6 oil are set to expire before March 2014, representing 232 tons of soot pollution.  Here’s an astonishing fact – only 1% of all buildings in NYC use these heavily polluting heating oils, yet burning these oils creates more soot than all of the cars and trucks in NYC combined.  The problem is grave, but the solution is within grasp. Read More »

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Don’t Turn The Lights Off On Demand Response

Source- FERC: National Assessment of Demand Response Potential

If Texas Legislators want to make sure the lights stay on this summer, they have a great opportunity to do so tomorrow, April 9, 2013, while saving electric customers money.  There are two critical bills being considered at the legislature in Texas that would expand the use of demand response, a tool that allows customers to voluntarily reduce peak, or high, electricity use and receive a payment for doing so in response to a signal from their energy provider.  We need to take advantage of tools like demand response to alleviate the pressures facing the Texas electric grid, what EDF refers to as the ‘Texas Energy Crunch,’ which include a shrinking water supply, growing population and rising summer temperatures.

Demand response has been identified by numerous experts as a key component to a reliable electric grid in Texas, and Tuesday’s Senate Business & Commerce Committee hearing at 8 am represents a great opportunity for the legislature to help meet future energy needs while providing direct benefits to customers and reducing water usage.

Demand response is critical to keeping the Texas electric grid humming.  According to a comprehensive report on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) reliability from the Brattle Group, “the energy-only market will not dependably support ERCOT’s current reliability target until sufficient demand response penetration is achieved.”  Demand response can be deployed in a matter of months, while it usually takes two to five years to build a natural gas power plant, even after all the permitting and financing is completed.  At the same time, demand response provides financial incentives; in the mid-Atlantic region, where demand response plays a critical role in the electric market, customers were paid a total of $330 million last year.  At the same time, according to the grid operator for the region, PJM, demand response actually lowers overall energy system costs by bringing more competitive resources into the market.  During the summer of 2012, PJM estimates this effect saved all customers around $650 million.

Read More »

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New York City’s Air Is Well On Its Way To Becoming Cleaner Than Ever

NYC Clean Heat is halfway to achieving its goal of reducing harmful heating oil soot pollution in New York City by 50 percent by the end of 2013.

The NYC Clean Heat program experienced tremendous growth in 2012. The Mayoral announcement in June 2012 marked the official transition from the pilot phase to full implementation of the NYC Clean Heat program, which aims to clean the air in New York City by helping buildings convert from highly-polluting No. 6 and No. 4 heating oils to the cleanest available fuels. The heating oils used in one percent of New York City buildings create more soot pollution than all the cars and trucks in the City combined – that’s why upgrading these buildings to cleaner heating fuel is the single largest step New Yorkers can take to solve local air pollution.

The goal of NYC Clean Heat is to cut heating oil soot pollution in half by the end of 2013. NYC’s Department of Health estimates that achieving this goal will result in over 120 lives saved each year and prevent hundreds of emergency room visits and hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

I’ve been a part of the NYC Clean Heat team for almost two years now, and I can tell you that I am floored by the progress we’ve made. For instance: 

  • By the end of 2012, over 1,200 boilers – well beyond the number of conversions the regulations required – have switched to natural gas or ultra-low sulfur No. 2 (some of the cleanest available fuels), and over 2,000 additional boilers in line to convert.
  • These 1,200 conversions have resulted in over 150 tons of reduction of soot pollution, or particulate matter (PM2.5), which is equivalent to removing over 800,000 light-duty passenger vehicles from the road for 1 year. That’s over 13 billion miles travelled!
  • NYC Clean Heat won the 2013 Citizen Budget Commission’s Award for Public Service Innovation.

Why is all of this important? Approximately 1,500 buildings still need to complete conversions in 2013. Also, roughly 2,000 permits for No. 6 oil are set to expire before March 2014, representing 232 tons of soot pollution. Because this week is National Public Health Week, we are more aware than ever of what reducing air pollution in New York City will mean. NOW is the time to take action. Read More »

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A Response To Attacks On Renewable Energy

Grover Norquist asks us to “rethink” renewable energy, and I think he may be right.  But we differ on the best way to do that.

He seems to think that Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and similar policies that level the playing field and create markets for renewable energy are “unfeasible,” as opposed to the current subsidies and rules that heavily favor fossil fuels.  In his op-ed, Norquist manages to wax poetic about free markets while dodging the billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuels and numerous impartial analyses that illustrate how renewable energy saves money for customers and adds much needed revenue to state budgets.

Obscuring the Facts
A recent analysis found that the five states with the highest amount of renewable energy (states that are encouraged by the policies Norquist asks us to rethink) have lower electric rates than the states with the least amounts of renewable energy.  In 2009 the Texas PUC declared that the state’s national leadership in wind energy, driven by their RPS, “has had the impact of lowering wholesale and retail prices of electricity."  The Texas State Comptroller said, “After the RPS was implemented, Texas wind corporations and utilities invested $1 billion in wind power, creating jobs, adding to the Texas Permanent School Fund and increasing the rural tax base.”

The story is similar in Colorado where, according to the American Wind Energy Association, the state’s RPS supported a total of 5,000-6,000 direct and indirect jobs, generating $7 million in state revenue and $4 million in leasing revenue for landowners who benefit from the policy.  Still, Norquist chooses to focus on a report – not yet released at the time of this writing – by the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative group founded by Republican politician Ray Shamie, to support some rather speculative claims.  

“Choose Your Own Free Market”
Much like the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s books, the fossil fuel industry would very much like to choose their own free market, one that gives fossil fuels an unfair advantage over all other resources.  Leaving the discussion there would simply perpetuate the junk science cycle that benefits the fossil fuel industry and their attempts to distract from the massive amounts of federal subsidies that these companies claim they need to continue operations.  A discussion on their terms would ignore the very real health impacts fossil fuel use has on infants, pregnant women, the elderly and the general population.   

Fossil fuel use directly impacts human health and we subsidize fossil fuels heavily through increasing health care costs and other expenses. A recent report from Harvard Medical School found that these unwitting subsidies cost us $345 billion annually in emergency room visits, health impacts, loss of life and loss of tourism income among other impacts.  A true free market is one in which industry takes responsibility for the costs it imposes on society.  In this sense, the fossil fuels industry has failed miserably.

Growing Faster Than the Rest of the Economy
While fossil fuels have increasingly clear health costs, the ways in which clean energy production helps the U.S. economy are becoming clearer as well.  According to a study from the non-partisan Brookings Institute, renewable energy jobs – and clean tech jobs in general – have grown at a much faster pace than the rest of the U.S. economy, driven largely by state policies like the RPS (the only exception being hydropower).  Solar jobs alone have doubled in the U.S. to 100,000 since 2009; many of these local installation and service jobs cannot be exported.  Last year alone, U.S. solar energy installations created a combined $6 billion in direct value, $4 billion of which was accrued to the U.S.  Furthermore, Jackie Roberts, Director of Sustainable Technologies at EDF, recently wrote that the U.S. was a significant net exporter of solar energy products when the entire value chain is accounted for, with total net exports of $2 billion in 2010.

A Non-Partisan Issue
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on Norquist’s part, but he certainly knows about renewable energy’s long history as a non-partisan issue – one where nationally recognized conservative Republicans like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback have publicly supported the same policies that Norquist decries.  Polls across the country show strong voter support for renewable energy, reaching across political ideology and party lines.  In fact, the most recent Republican President and the previous Governor of Texas created the most successful Renewable Portfolio Standard in the country and reportedly consider it one of their proudest achievements in Texas.  Speaking in Dallas last year at the American Wind Energy Association’s annual conference, former President Bush noted that “when we diversify our energy supply, we create jobs.”

Mr. Norquist asks us to rethink renewable energy, and I think he may be right. Recently, fossil fuel industry-funded attacks on renewable energy have grown, which makes me think they are beginning to feel the pressure from cleaner renewable energy with no fuel cost.  Pseudo scientific claims like those found in Norquist’s op-ed make front page news while the incredible growth rates of renewable energy projects and jobs in the U.S. barely make the back page, which leads me to believe that the media is more focused on reporting controversy than facts.  The public remains committed to clean energy, while public officials waver, seeking to catch the political wind.  All of this makes me think that we need to recommit to a cleaner energy future with less pollution, healthier children and more local jobs.

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