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New York City Council passed a law on Wednesday banning the use of natural gas and other carbon-based fuels in new building construction starting in 2024 – a move that should not only reduce carbon emissions, but also the release of dangerous pollution associated with the consumption of fossil fuels by buildings.

The bill was adopted by the council with 40 votes in favor, 7 against and one abstention.

The new legislation is designed to reduce air pollution, by reducing carbon emissions by around 2.1 million tonnes by 2040. This is equivalent to the annual pollution caused by 450,000 cars. But it does not explicitly prohibit the use of natural gas or specify the type of energy to be used.

Instead, it caps emissions from construction operations to less than 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide per million UK thermal units of energy – a limit that makes compliance nearly impossible if gas is used. Over 70% of the city’s greenhouse gas pollution comes from the operation of buildings such as heat pumps and water heaters. Mayor Bill de Blasio should sign the bill before he leaves office, as appropriate the city’s objectives zero emissions by 2040 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

While the real estate industry supports and recognizes that the electrification of buildings is inevitable, its representatives believe that the power grid and other infrastructure need time to mature in order to meet energy and operational demands – the power grid is always supplied with electricity. largely by natural gas. They also expressed concerns about the profitability of their businesses.

“There are risks in going too fast,” said Zach Steinberg, senior vice president of policy for the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).

Most buildings have a natural gas connection in addition to receiving electricity from an electrical network. This energy is used for heating, hot water and cooking, but architects and environmentalists have said these needs can be met by technologies already in use, such as electric heat pumps and electric stoves, which, according to them, are affordable to incorporate into design and construction.

But by eliminating the need for a separate gas line, a building is completely dependent on the power grid for all of its electrical needs. Steinberg said he was concerned the current grid could not handle these city-wide electricity demands, but a recent study by advocacy group Urban Green Council disagreed.

Yet, while the grid is ready, the changes will only count as zero emissions if grid-connected power plants stop relying on fossil fuels and turn to renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydrothermal energy. The new law is just one step towards imposing these issues on carbon neutrality.

“Designing buildings without fossil fuels is nothing new to architects,” said Adam Roberts, director of policy at the American Institute of Architects (AIA). “Claims that the technology doesn’t exist and that the architectural expertise doesn’t exist to design fossil-free buildings in New York City – that’s kind of a joke.”

Such modifications have been part of affordable housing design for years, according to Sara Beyer, director of sustainability at Magnusson Architecture and Planning. In fact, it has three fully electric buildings under construction and eight more in the design phase. Regarding the additional costs, Beyer said the technology is used in all of its electric buildings, which are affordable housing.

Other architects pointed to the cost savings by switching from gas to electricity. Mark Ginsberg, partner at Curtis + Ginsberg, said all-electric only adds 2-5% to the overall cost of a new build. Some advocates have been pushing for the bill to cover older buildings under renovation as well, but Ginsberg said it was much more expensive for an existing building that will need to be upgraded with any new electrical service as it will use more. electricity and no gas.

Health benefits will also come from reduced carbon emissions in a state known for its high pollution death rates. RMI, a non-partisan energy policy group, estimated that New York State ruled the nation in 2017 in premature deaths caused by fuel combustion in buildings. New York City, on the other hand, is experiencing high rates of hospitalizations for asthma which are at best double what other areas see in the state, and a similar pattern exists for asthma problems death.

Safety is another reason to end the use of carbonaceous fuels inside buildings. Roberts said fully electric buildings do not have the common concerns of explosions and fuel fires that are a real danger during floods or when people neglect to turn off a gas stove.

There are a few exceptions to the law. Hospitals are exempt because certain medical equipment must be connected to gas in the event of a power failure. Backup generators for back-up power will also continue to be tied to gas as there is no viable alternative yet. The city’s building department commissioner, who would oversee law enforcement, will also be allowed to grant exemptions in the event of financial hardship.

The law does not come into force immediately. For buildings with less than seven floors, this regulation will begin with new requests submitted after December 31, 2023 and July 1, 2027 for larger constructions.

“Climate change is the existential problem of our time,” Ginsberg said. “If anything, we blow it up. Even though it’s going to cause pain, we’re doing it now, so it’s not impossible. To respect one of the city and state agreements with Paris and Glasgow, we have to do it. “