The end of the year beckons. How did we get here so fast? Should we rush to finish? Or slow down and reflect?
I don’t have particular answers for you, but I do know there’s a lot of smaller stories that I haven’t gotten to this year I want to feature. So for the rest of December, I’ll be doing a round-ups of local climate action stories around the US. What’s caught your eye this year? Tell me by replying to this email
New York City schools get a little less polluted
Back in October, New York City announced it was converting 100 of its schools from fossil-fuel boilers to all-electric heating by 2030, targeting schools in areas with high asthma rates. The effort also includes switching 200 schools off No.4 oil to biofuels by 2026, and upgrade to energy efficient lighting in 800 schools.
The city expects this to cost $4 billion, and has “committed” $2 billion of it already. Much like the effort behind electric school buses, projects like these aim to combine the benefits of lowering greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and improving air quality for school children.
It’s also happening alongside the first deadline for Local Law 97, which requires large buildings in the city to hit increasingly lower greenhouse gas emissions, starting in 2024, and in theory will be enforced by financial penalties comparative to the size of the emissions.
The city has more than 1,800 schools, so the full-electrification effort is about 5% of those buildings, but it matches with the city’s attempt to use their own buildings as test subjects for how to cut emissions. A report covering 2014-2019 showed mixed success among city departments in doing so.
As with most things climate & electrification, its a huge project and still a small amount of the whole, and implementation really matters. Will New York truly target the schools with the worst health outcomes? Where will the other $2 billion come from? And will the hope that workers trained to switch large buildings to heat pump will take up other large building projects pan out?
Boston is behind on its own goal
Boston has a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 goal. It’s aggressive, but not impossible.
But a new report commissions outside the city government says the city lack of aggressive actions for an aggressive goal means its 2030 target is in real trouble. Among the “Big Lifts” (perhaps a play on the Big Dig) city could take that would have the most impact: retrofitting 70,000 single-family homes and increase local zero-emission energy - only 3,500 of a 66,000 buildings with solar potential have installations.
There’s a lot more at the full report here.
Small-scale scale How does city take on all the potential emissions projects that’s within its power? In Durango, Colorado, councilors signed off on doing almost 30 projects for city buildings at once.
It’s a real mix of size and kind: installing new HVAC systems, solar arrays and LED light replacements. Apparently doing this all at once (or more accurately, signing the contract with the consulting company in one go) will cut the city’s bill by 20%.
Not all the councilors agreed, with one telling the Durango Herald the consultant’s fees were too high. And there’s this not-entirely clear statement about one of the largest heating and cooling projects:
Pool said Carnegie Hall will undergo “beneficial electrification,” switching it over to an all-electric building, and in the meantime, installing a new heating and cooling system.
“That building right now is really, frankly speaking, a hodgepodge of different heating and cooling,” he said.
“Beneficial electrification” generally means getting fossil fuels out of buildings in a way that is cost-saving overall. It’s unclear what’s powering the newer, more efficient HVAC system.