New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Gotham Gazette Calling for 'Climate Emergency' Declaration, Council Members Examine City's Progress in Renewable Energy by Caitlyn Rosen

Calling for 'Climate Emergency' Declaration, Council Members Examine City's Progress in Renewable Energy

The likely future of devastation caused by climate change is one of several reasons activist Becca Trabin said New York City needs to declare a climate emergency.

“You look out at this beautiful cityscape. You don’t just see these tall buildings that are standing here today, you see what this space will look like if we continue on our current trajectory,” Trabin said. “I see devastation all around, I see death. And I see that there is still time to avert that trajectory.”

Trabin was surrounded by about 90 activists in front of City Hall on Monday – including City Council Members Ben Kallos, Costa Constantinides, and Rafael Espinal – who rallied ahead of a hearing of the Council’s Committee of Environmental Protection that included discussion of a resolution to declare a climate emergency in New York City. 

The resolution, sponsored by Kallos, declares a climate emergency and calls for immediate emergency mobilization to restore a safe climate. It would not have the force of law, but would be a symbolic step toward pushing climate-change deniers to finally do what must be done to save the planet, as Kallos put it. New York City would be the largest city in the world to declare a climate emergency, according to Kallos, and join London, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.

Including the resolution, eight proposals (all focused on renewable energy and its implementation) were discussed at the Council environment committee meeting, which was also billed as an oversight hearing on the city’s efforts to move to renewables.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has goals for the implementation of renewable energy through his “New York City Green New Deal,” which aims to have city government commit to carbon neutrality by 2050 and 100% clean electricity by 2040.

The city plans to meet these goals through a variety of measures and programs, including the use of solar and wind energy, transitioning the extensive city vehicle fleet toward electric cars, and more.

One of the bills discussed at the Council hearing, Intro. 49, sponsored by Constantinides, requires the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to conduct a study on the installation of utility-scaled battery storage systems on city buildings.

A battery storage system is a “set of methods and technologizes utilizing a range of electrochemical storage solutions, including advanced chemistry batteries and capacitators, for the purpose of storing energy,” according to the bill. Battery storage systems store the energy from wind and solar power, and work to ensure electricity is uninterrupted, even if wind and solar assets are minimal.

The city’s renewable energy goals would be accomplished in part through battery storage systems in the city. Representatives of the mayor’s office testified in general support of the bills in front of the committee Monday. Susanne DesRoches, Christopher Diamond, and Anthony Fiore spoke on behalf of the de Blasio administration and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services about the goals for battery storage and the progress on achieving that goal. 

“We expect growth in this sector to accelerate by a combination of the city’s commitment to expediting permitting for small and medium lithium battery installations,” said DesRoches, Deputy Director of Infrastructure and Energy at the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

Currently, there is one battery operated system at Jacobi Hospital and three additional systems being installed across the city, said Fiore, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Energy Management Officer for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

The goal for battery storage is 500 Megawatts by 2025 citywide. The city presently has about 18,000 kilowatt hours (or 18 Megawatts) in battery storage. However, this amount is expected to significantly increase with a state-incentivized program. 

“There is a program that will be rolled out between now and 2023 where there’ll be 300 Megawatts of utility scale storage that’s incentivized by the state and procured by ConEdison,” DesRoches said.

A combination of Megawatts from the ConEdison program, public, and private storage facilities is expected to make up the 500 Megawatts goal by 2025. In terms of battery storage goals for city buildings, Fiore said that the city’s goals are consistent with the overall goal, but didn’t lay out specific figures on how city buildings would work to meet it.

Among the bills related to battery storage and geothermal technologies, several people testified about Intro. 140, which would require the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a feasibility study on the implementation of a community choice aggregation program.

Community choice aggregation allows local governments to purchase energy for entire communities as an alternative supplier to existing utility providers. CCAs often promote renewable energy, and those who testified about the program highlighted how CCAs could help the city meet its goal of 500 Megawatts by 2050.

“Existing Community Choice Aggregation Programs have been a resounding success in eight states thus far, and a similar program in New York City would likely be no exception. In 2017, over 750 CCAs provided 42 million megawatt hours of energy to an estimated 5 million consumers,” Michael Gersho, a Green Building Worldwide Research Fellow, said during his testimony.

Most of the testimonies about CCAs were in favor of the program but varied in implementation methods. Some said New Yorkers should be able to opt-in to the program while others said a better strategy would be letting people opt-out, meaning all citizens of a community would be automatically enrolled and could choose not to participate.

If the bill passes, and the proposed study finds that CCAs would be feasible in the city, the program would start March 1, 2020.

Along with Intros. 49 and 140, and Kallos’s resolution, the committee heard Intro. 51, which would establish a pilot program for a district-scale geothermal system and Intro. 269, which would require the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability establish a residential renewable energy pilot utilizing solar thermal district heating systems and photovoltaic systems.

The committee also heard Intro. 426, which would require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to conduct a study on the costs of installing solar and thermal energy and heating systems in city-owned buildings; Intro. 1076, which requires the Department of Environmental Planning to study areas most suitable for geothermal mini-grids or district heating; and Intro. 1375, which calls for the creation of a database of geothermal energy systems in the city.

As expected, none of the bills or the resolution was voted on at Monday’s hearing. Negotiations around the legislation may continue internally at the Council or between the Council and the de Blasio administration before any of it moves ahead to a committee vote.

Issues

Get involved to make your voice heard.

Get monthly updates with the information you need to make a difference.