Monday, October 16, 2017

Three paths to stronger NY energy and climate response

To cope with climate change, we must aim for transition to 100% renewable energy as soon as possible


The Solutions Project and scientists at Stanford University have come up with plans for all 50 US states and 138 countries to transition to 100% renewable energy. founder Bill McKibben calls for politicians to commit to converting to100% renewable energy while working to keep remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

Senators Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey have introduced the “100 by’50 Act” to completely phase out fossil fuel use and replace them with renewable power by 2050, while supporting workers and prioritizing low-income communities.

Legislation has also been introduced at the federal level to transition to 100% clean electricity by 2035

The Climate Mobilization calls for a government-coordinated emergency effort to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy as soon as possible, modeled after the US mobilization at the outset of World War II.   

Changing New York State’s Climate and Energy Policy

The Solutions Project’s New York State plan outlines how by 2030 electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry energy infrastructure could be converted to run entirely from wind, water, andsunlight, provided by: 10% onshore wind (4,020 5- megawatt / MW turbines), 40% offshore wind (12,700 5-MW turbines), 10% concentrated solar (387 100-MW plants), 10% solar-PV plants (828 50-MW plants), 6% residential rooftop PV (5 million 5-kW systems), 12% commercial/ government rooftop PV (500,000 100-kW systems), with smaller numbers of geothermal, wave, tidal and hydroelectric systems.

New York can switch to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030.

New York needs to commit to this goal, and can make it by investing in energy conservation, energy reduction, wind, solar and geothermal (e.g., heat pumps) not oil, gas, coal, fossil fuel infrastructure, or nukes. We must immediately halt investments in fossil fuels and related infrastructure.

Legislationto require this has been introduced by Assemblymember Colton (A5105) and Senator Hoylman (S5908). NYSERDA is working on a study on how fast NYS can move to 100% clean energy. A draft is expected by the end of 2017.

NY must speed up its transition to renewable energy. Cuomo unfortunately is giving more money ($7.6 billion over 12 years) to bail out old upstate nuclear power plants than he is giving to renewable energy. We also need increased efforts by local governments to move to 100% clean energy (see GELF’s A Local ClimateAction Agenda).

We need stronger commitments by NYS and NYC re off shore wind (e.g., a commitment for New York State to purchase 5,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power by 2025, and 10,000 MW by 2030.

Mandate that Buildings Stop Wasting Energy

With around 1 million buildings in NYC, most of them older, only making new buildings more efficient is not enough. Large private buildings over 25,000 square feet account for just 5% of all the City’s buildings, but use more than half of the City’s total energy. Many are very inefficient. It’s crazy for apartments to be so hot in the winter than tenants have to open a window to stay comfortable – but very common. Many energy efficiency upgrades will pay for themselves in a short period of time, but building owners tend to ignore upgrades unless they are legally required, such as the City’s successful switch from dirty #6 heating oil to cleaner heating fuels.

The Climate Works for All plan would require comprehensive mandatory energy use performance targets in existing buildings, instead of prescribing individual requirements via cumbersome building code. Decision-making on specific efficiency upgrades would be left to owners. By 2025, large buildings should be required to cut energy use by 10%, and then by another 10% by 2030. Requirements for rent-regulated housing should be deferred until state law is changed to prevent landlords from raising tenant’s rents using the Major Capital Improvements (MCI) loophole.

Mayor di Blasio’s building retrofit proposal doesn’t hit the pace needed to reach even just the Paris agreement 80x50 cuts. It doesn’t require enough of large building owners, it lacks local hiring standards, and it will lead to rent increases on low-income tenants.


NY State Climate and Community Protection Act

The NY State Energy Plan sets positive goals for 2030. While an important roadmap, there’s a serious problem - its goals are only aspirational. NYS government agencies and officials are not legally required to put them into practice.

The Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) is needed to fix this. The CCPA was drafted by climate law experts at the Sabin Center for Environmental Law at Columbia University, and is backed by NY Renews, a coalition of 110 labor, community and environmental groups.

The CCPA would legally require NY State government to enforce its climate commitments, set new labor standards and worker protections for those in the renewable energy industries. It would allocate 40% of the budgets for community resilience and green jobs training projects in the State’s Clean Energy Fund to disadvantaged communities.

The New York State Assembly voted to write the CCPA into law in both in 2016 and 2017, but the Senate won’t even bring the CCPA up for consideration.

Senator Tony Avella of Queens and all 8 members of the Independent Democratic Conference – the group of 8 Senators elected as Democrats who now vote with the Republicans – signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. They introduced it into the Senate near the end of the 2017 session. Instead of pushing the Senate’s Republican leadership to bring the bill up for an immediate vote, Sen. Avella suddenly took a 180 degree turn, claiming profound misgivings about the bill and deciding to shelve it until further study.

It looks like the IDC’s last minute endorsement of the CCPA was a cynical scam to allow them to claim they support climate action, while actually helping Senate Republicans to block climate action. The IDC can disprove this theory by passing the legislation as soon as possible, by including it in their next conference budget proposal.

Here's a more detailed review of the CCPA and what happened in the NY State Senate.

Energy conservation and solar for NYC apartment buildings

350NYC is now organizing a series of interactive community forums on energy and climate.  The date and location of the first one, to take place this winter, will be announced later.

Following is part two of a draft version of a handout to be distributed at the forum, which will allow attendees to follow up on the short presentations and learn more at home. 

The two hour forum will feature presenters from the official NYC programs to facilitate energy conservation retrofit projects and rooftop solar panel installations in apartment building, NYC Retrofit Accelerator and Here Comes Solar, along with a property manager or a coop board leader to describe their successful project.  We’ll ask attendees willing to connect the property managers and coop board leaders of their buildings for their contact information, so this meeting will lead to actual projects. 

The third part of the forum will be the next section of the handout and the next post on this blog. Five minute introductions to three campaigns to strengthen NYC and State policies will be a lot in a short period of time - but we'll have notes. 

Energy Efficiency for your Building

About 70% of NYC’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy used to heat, power, and cool buildings. Since over 90% of the buildings that exist today in NYC will still be here in 2050, to achieve the City’s energy conservation goals nearly all existing buildings will have to be retrofitted to become more energy efficient. 

Transform your building. Explain to management what’s in it for them.

One of the most impactful things you can do is to encourage your building ownership or management to take action.  Contact someone on your building’s coop or condo board, or the property manager.  Explain that NYC’s free program, the Retrofit Accelerator, will help them assess what energy conservation measures (ECMs) make sense for them.

ECMs will help owners and managers save money by reducing utility bills and operating costs, reducing labor and maintenance, and increasing occupant comfort. Even if they are not concerned about lessening the building’s climate impact, they’ll recognize that green practices are increasingly standard and have marketing benefits.

Many upgrade measures will save enough from energy bills to pay for themselves in less than five years: LED lighting and sensors in common areas, sub-metering, ventilation, fuel switching, domestic hot water, HVAC controls, and distribution systems. NYC Energy and Water Use 2013 Report, p. 30.

Most of these upgrades are voluntary, and many building managers do only what is required to comply with City laws.  They will be more willing to look into them if they know that help is available – and that residents are asking.  Contact 350NYC at for a volunteer to assist you and your neighbors.

NYC Retrofit Accelerator

Staff at the City’s free advisory service streamlines the process of making energy efficiency improvements in buildings. They will work with management to assess the building’s unique needs, make connections with qualified contractors, find cash incentives and financing, train building staff, and provide support even after project completion. Connect your building representative with the Retrofit Accelerator at 212-656-9202 and

Handbook for Multifamily Buildings

Of NYC’s one million buildings, nearly 100,000 are multifamily properties.  NYC has put together a handbook specifically for them, introducing the basics of energy efficiency, incentive programs, financing, relevant local laws, and technical training programs.

Ready to Respond: Strategies for Multifamily Building Resilience

50 building resilience experts and staff from FEMA compiled this manual detailing 19 practical strategies for building owners to make their properties more resilient against the effects of extreme weather events. Determine your property’s vulnerability to various hazards, find which strategies are relevant, and how to get started.

Solar Panels for your Roof

Fix the areas where your building is wasting energy before you install solar power. Otherwise, much of the additional electricity added by the solar project will be wasted!

Rooftop Solar Power

Solar electric systems convert sunlight into electricity, and can reduce a building’s need to purchase electricity from a utility. Any excess electricity produced that your building does not use is credited to your building’s utility bill through net metering. Solar panels can be expensive, but financial incentives from NYSERDA and government tax incentives can cover as much as 80% of the costs. They can also be financed or leased to install solar for little or no money upfront.

If you own a house, you can buy or lease solar yourself.  If you live in a coop or condo apartment building, the building’s board and management must agree to consider and then install a solar project. For large, tall buildings, the solar yield from relatively limited rooftop surface area will not cover as much of the building’s common area electricity needs as in six story buildings with more roof space compared to building volume.    

Community Solar

Solarize NYC brings together groups of potential solar customers, using group purchasing power to reduce prices 10-20% from individual pricing. A community can include a neighborhood, a group of buildings, or an association such as a labor union or property management firm. Solarize NYC will assist in choosing a solar installation company that offers competitive, transparent pricing.

Community Shared Solar

This model allows building owners and renters in multifamily buildings without adequate solar access the opportunity to subscribe to portions of a large solar array located on- or off-site and managed by a third party. Each individual subscriber’s share of production will appear as a credit on their utility bill, offsetting their monthly electricity charges. If the solar array generates more electricity than subscribers use, the excess generation credits will be distributed to individual subscribers on an annual basis.

Solar PV Online Resources
• NY-Sun:
• Solarize NYC:
• Sustainable CUNY. NYC Multifamily Solar Guide:
• Here Comes Solar:

To put the brakes on climate change, we have to do much more.  Next, we'll earn about three initiatives to make NYC and NY State energy policy much stronger.

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Envisioning NYC Community Energy Forums

350NYC is now organizing a series of interactive community forums on energy and climate, with the first one to take place this winter.

About 70% of of NYC's energy use goes to heat, cool, light and power buildings, and most of us live in apartment buildings, so that's where we'll focus.

The two hour forum will feature presenters from the official NYC programs to facilitate energy conservation retrofit projects and rooftop solar panel installations in apartment buildings, NYC Retrofit Accelerator and Here Comes Solar.  We'll invite a property manager or a coop board leader who can describe their successful project.  Then, we’ll ask for attendees willing to connect the programs with the property managers and coop board leaders of their buildings, so this meeting will lead to actual projects.  

Next we’ll hear briefly from representatives of three campaigns to strengthen NYC and NY State policies. Lastly, we’ll facilitate discussion among small groups of neighbors in the audience. 

It's a lot in a short period of time, but very doable.  We’ll distribute print copies of the following draft backgrounder, which will allow attendees to follow up on the forum's short presentations and learn more at home. 

Want to get a forum in your neighborhood? Let's start with an introductory talk to one of your local groups. Contact

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Draft Handout for Attendees
Climate Change and NYC

The NYC Panel on Climate Change includes scientists and legal, insurance and risk management experts.  Their latest report, Building the Knowledge Base for Climate Resiliency, contains their predictions for the direct challenges to city infrastructure.

- Increasing temperatures: From 1900 to 2013, mean annual temperatures in NYC rose 3.4 degrees F.  A further 4-5 degrees F increase is expected by 2050.  By 2080, the City will experience 6 heat waves per year.
- Sea level rise: NYC sea levels have risen a foot since 1900.  By 2050, one to two feet more is expected.  Sea levels could rise as much as six feet by 2100.
- Dangerous storms:
Precipitation will increase and become more erratic leading to more frequent and more intense storms, and both more droughts and floods.

Many other indirect impacts - on agriculture, public health, the economy – in the US and around the world – will affect us.  Some scientists claim that the scenarios put out by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are too conservative. A recent article in New York Magazine illustrates other possible scenarios.

What do we do?

We must try to slow down and reverse climate change – while making ourselves and our communities more resilient to its impacts. The Paris Agreement, aimed at limiting global warming to under 2 degrees C (3.6 F), was a step in the right direction, even though its measures wouldn’t have been sufficient.  With the US federal government captured by fossil fuel corporate interests, and in full denial of reality, US cities and states are acting independently.  NYC and the US Conference of Mayors have agreed to commit to the Paris goals.  There is no time for complacency.  Fortunately, there are many ways for New Yorkers to take action.

Individual green lifestyle choices are necessary, but not enough.  NYC plans are quite good, but also not sufficient.  We can help NYC implement and strengthen its plans by plugging our neighbors and communities into current programs to increase energy conservation and renewable power in City buildings. Expanding these local efforts builds the foundation for the next steps: organizing to massively upgrade City, State and National responses.

NYC’s Plans for Sustainability and Climate Change Response

PlaNYC, the City’s first sustainability plan, was released in 2007 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  In 2014, Mayor Bill di Blasio updated the plan as OneNYC, detailing hundreds of initiatives underway at City agencies.  NYC’s Roadmap to 80 x 50 report of 2016 analyzed potential emission reductions from the city’s energy, buildings, transportation, and solid waste sectors.  It found that the City is on track to meet its 2030 target, but still has to work harder to get to 80%.


Many reports on NYC sustainability, resilience and energy use are at:


What you can do personally

There are many ways to lower your personal carbon emissions:
- use mass transit
- turn off and unplug electronic devices when you leave home
- limit the amount of materials you use and the waste you produce
- recycle, compost and donate wherever possible
- support local farmers and buy organically grown food. 


Switch your personal electric use to wind and solar energy
350NYC makes this green action very easy. Electricity can be generated by a fossil fuel burning power plant, a nuclear power plant, hydropower, or a utility scale wind or solar facility.  Only 2% of the electricity used by most NYC residents comes from renewable power: the other 98% is from other sources.

If you rent or own an apartment, and pay your own utility bill, the easiest way to change that is to switch to a wind or solar energy provider.  They will contact ConEd, modify your account, and will purchase the power you use each month from renewable sources. You will have personally divested from fossil fuels.

Choosing among many suppliers of green and renewable electricity can be confusing.  After 350NYC reviewed over 30 independent energy suppliers in 2014, we decided to recommend and partner with Clean Choice Energy (previously known as Ethical Electric). If you sign up with them, 350NYC will receive a $150 sign-on bonus.  Go to:

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

NY State Climate and Community Protection Plan Blocked by Rogue Democrats in the State Senate


NY State Senate

With climate change accelerating and Federal government policy in full reverse, it’s urgent for city and state governments to take the lead on climate change, environmental and energy policy.  Despite being one of the bluest states, New York State, and its government, could be doing much more.  Here’s an example.

The NY State Energy Plan, released in 2015, sets positive goals for 2030: reduce greenhouse gas emissions within NY State by 40%, have 50% of electricity come from renewable sources, and cut energy consumption in buildings by a quarter.  While an important roadmap, with detailed policy recommendations, there’s a serious problem with the plan - its goals are only aspirational.  NYS government agencies and officials are not legally required to put them into practice.

The Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) is critically needed to fix this.  The CCPA is backed by 
NY Renews, a coalition of 110 labor, community and environmental groups.  It was drafted by climate law experts at the Sabin Center for Environmental Law at Columbia University, and then reviewed and refined by the policy staff of the coalition member groups.

According to Jessica Wentz of the Sabin Center: “With the Trump administration working to dismantle federal climate protections, it is essential for states and cities to take action to address climate change. The Climate and Community Protection Act is an ambitious piece of legislation that would make New York State a leader in U.S. efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. It creates a comprehensive and legally enforceable framework for meeting emission reduction goals, decarbonizing the state economy, and preparing communities for the impacts of climate change.”


The CCPA would legally require NY State government to enforce its climate commitments. The law would authorize funds for new renewable energy projects, mandate the formation and reporting activities of a 25 member NY State Climate Action Council, require the DEC to set new regulations, and require that the State get 50% of its electricity from clean, renewable energy sources by 2030.

The CCPA would also complement the NY State Energy Plan in other ways.  It would set new labor standards and worker protections for those in the renewable energy industries. It would allocate 40% of the budgets for projects in the State’s 
Clean Energy Fund to disadvantaged communities, making them more resilient to extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy, and also making green job training more widely available.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright, chair of the Environmental Committee, 
introduced a bill to write the CCPA into law in the New York State Assembly; it passed in both in 2016 and 2017.  For a bill to become State law, a companion bill must also be passed by the State Senate.  Last year, the Senate didn’t even make an effort to consider the proposed law.

On June 1, Donald Trump made the historically destructive decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. One might hope that in the aftermath, with the need for state leadership on climate change never clearer, New York State would finally pass the CCPA, which had been sitting on the legislative docket for over a year.

Senator Tony Avella of Queens and all 8 members of the Independent Democratic Conference – the group of 8 Senators elected as Democrats who now vote with the Republicans – signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. They introduced it into the Senate on June 19, near the end of the 2017 session.  

Instead of pushing the Senate’s Republican leadership to bring the bill up for an immediate vote, Sen. Avella suddenly took a 180 degree turn, claiming profound misgivings about the bill and deciding to shelve it until further study.  

Originally, the bill was supported by all eight members of the IDC, self-described “pragmatic progressives” who claim to be able to work with Republican leaders to pass progressive priorities.   But apparently, this was only for show; the real plan was to sit on the bill and block action.

The IDC’s support for Republicans gives the latter majority control of the Senate.  Combined, these Senators are the single biggest obstacle to passing ambitious climate legislation in New York State. Avella’s manipulation of the CCPA demonstrates standard IDC practice -- the IDC is a pack of con artists in service of the Senate’s Trump-aligned Republicans.

As the IDC’s excuse for burying the bill it had just agreed to sponsor, its members point to a letter from three individuals denouncing the bill and questioning its provisions - a remarkably weak claim given the bill's broad support by labor, community and environmental groups.

Their delay and deception during this time of climate crisis is unconscionable. The only way the IDC can prove that its endorsement of the CCPA wasn’t a cynical scam is to pass the legislation as soon as possible, by including it in their next conference budget proposal.  
= = = = = = =
A closer look at Avella’s CCPA con game

In late June 2017, after signing on as a sponsor of the CCPA, Avella suddenly reversed himself and announced plans to block action on the bill until after completely reexamining it at a forum to be held in the fall of 2018.  The forum would only feature testimony from witnesses invited by Avella.  Supposedly, the reason for the IDC’s complete reversal on the bill was a letter Avella received - dated June 19.  Three people signed off on a nine page letter with a laundry list of criticisms of the CCPA. They clearly had it ready and were awaiting the precise final day to send it. Its release was nicely timed to provide the IDC a threadbare excuse to delay action.

At a rally in front of Senator Avella’s office later in June, Avella’s chief of staff Rebecca Sheehan attempted to explain to activists how Avella and the IDC did a complete turnaround in less than two weeks. Sheehan wrote:
"As I informed you yesterday, given the serious issues raised in the June 19th letter he received, Senator Avella has decided to hold a "Climate Forum" sometime this Fall to hear public testimony from experts on these issues, including environmental justice professionals, labor representatives and climate science professionals so that a full throated discussion can be had about any concerns with the current language of the bill, how those can be addressed and the best way to ensure that this legislation is drafted and moved forward to meet its intended goals.  It is Senator Avella's intention to have this hearing open to the public, although testimony will be by invitation only, and he hopes it will also be available to be "live streamed".  "
There is no end of technical and procedural objections that can be made toward any plan, especially when the scope of the challenge is as large as moving New York State from fossil fuel to renewable energy as quickly as possible.  The letter is an exercise in the generation of objections.  It should not be taken seriously.  
If the IDC were serious about improving the bill they could have scheduled hearings in the fall of 2016 and winter of 2017.  
Before it momentarily met with the approval of the IDC, the CCPA had already been crafted with the input of experts on environmental and climate issues, as well as environmental justice and labor advocates, through the participation of over 100 groups representing tens of thousands of New Yorkers.  For Avella to ignore the participants and process that led to the bill and claim it needs to be rewritten, ostensibly based on criticisms from three individuals, is implausible, arrogant and condescending.
The forum being discussed may not even take place.  Even if it did, with testimony only from those that Avella invites, the forum would just be a charade designed to delay action indefinitely, propose legislation entirely at odds with the advocates of the CCPA, create confusion, and demand endless research into unresolvable conundrums that no one is assigned to fund or evaluate. Avella’s response cannot be taken seriously.  It is a scam.
Sheehan handed activists a statement from IDC Director of Communications Candice Giove that was surprisingly open in its contempt for environmentalists and confident in the gullibility of voters:   
“It’s disappointing that these protesters senselessly killed trees to create misleading placards since the members of the IDC are fighting to protect our environment.  We are working with climate science experts to strengthen the recently introduced Climate and Communities Protection Act so that New York can act as an example for other states in the face of federal failure.  And, we proudly passed the Community Risk and Resiliency Act that makes our state monitor climate change risk such as sea level rise, flooding and storm surges, and use data to predict extreme weather.  This major law included investments in environmental infrastructure projects to revitalize waterfronts, clean up coastlines and protect farmland.  It also included revolving funds to address water pollution and drinking water concerns.  The members of the IDC are committed to combating climate change and will continue to fight for this issue.”  

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Can NYC's 1,400 tons per day of sewage waste be turned into biochar?

NYC is lowering its carbon emissions, mostly through energy efficiency and conservation measures, and to a lesser degree, by adding more solar and wind power.  There’s an entirely different avenue that so far, NYC hasn’t ventured into: carbon sequestration. 

Carbon can be sequestered, or captured for long-term storage, before it can escape into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, which is what usually happens when fossil fuels or organic solids are burned or decompose.

The most widely discussed methods of carbon sequestration propose removing CO2 from exhaust gases at fossil fuel burning power stations, and storing it in underground reservoirs, but these are unproven as well as costly.  Proven natural methods, such as reforestation and raising carbon content of soil through regenerative agriculture practices, don’t directly apply to urban environments. 

However, it’s possible for NYC to sequester the carbon in sewage sludge, one of its biggest municipal solid waste streams, by turning sludge into a type of charcoal called biochar that can be reused or disposed of locally – potentially saving many millions a year in dumping fees.

When organic solids are heated in the absence of oxygen, instead of catching on fire, they turn into charcoal.  Most charcoal is burned as a fuel, but when made to meet certain standards, for a wide range of specific applications, it’s referred to as biochar

Production of biochar is a known way to stabilize carbon for hundreds or thousands of years.  It’s one of the top 100 climate change solutions researched by scientists of the Drawdown Project.

When added to soil, biochar improves agricultural productivity and water retention.  The structure of wood is preserved at the microscopic level, providing habitat for beneficial soil microbes and fungi.

This was common practice in South America’s Amazon region before the European arrival, as layers of unusually dark and fertile soils with high charcoal content attest.  

Scientific study of biochar has revealed many potential industrial uses, such as in water filters and building materials. 

Many forms of organic waste in NYC, such as paper, cardboard, yard waste and leaves are already being recycled.  Food waste is increasingly being collected for composting.    However, the sewage waste biosolids left over at the end of the City’s water treatment process are more difficult to dispose of.

NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection manages the City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants, which together treat 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater daily.  Methane, the main constituent of natural gas, is always produced in the anaerobic phase of sewage treatment, and when waste decomposes in landfills.  It’s increasingly common for methane to be captured and burned at these locations to heat water into steam, run a turbine, and produce electricity.  Not only does this harvest a lucrative resource, it also avoids serious harm:  methane escaping into the atmosphere has over 25 times the greenhouse gas impact as carbon dioxide.  There’s a major initiative underway to collect methane at all 14 of the City’s plants and to put all of it to beneficial use.

Whether or not gas is extracted from sewage, there’s still a lot of sludge at the end of the process. NYC produces 1,400 tons per day of biosolids. Until it was legally prohibited in 1988, the City was dumping it in the ocean.

As the City’s 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan and its Biosolids Management appendix explain, biosolids can be used as fertilizer when spread on farms, parks, lawns, golf courses, and cemeteries, or it can be less usefully dumped in landfills. 

According to anecdotal reports from DEP staff, NYC biosolids are free of metal contamination or biological risk.  They’re even safe to use as fertilizer for growing food for human consumption.  However, because of the availability of other inexpensive fertilizers, the market for sewage biosolids may be limited.  NYC is paying contractors to take virtually all of NYC’s biosolids into landfills.

At $108 per wet ton, the City is now paying $151,200 per day in hauling fees, or about $55,188,000 per year. 

NYC may be better off turning its biosolids into biochar.  Relatively low carbon organic solids like sewage sludge or food waste must be mixed with woody biomass, high in both carbon and lignin, before it can be used as a good feedstock for biochar. 

Next questions for exploring biochar as an option for NYC

Before the operating costs of using this approach for NYC’s biosolids can be estimated, agency staff will have to consult with biochar scientists and other experts and stakeholders to assess what feedstocks are needed to mix with it, and what are available; the capacity of various biochar systems, their purchase cost and costs of operation.

Even if turning some or all of the City’s biosolids to biochar would cost more than the $55 million annually in shipping costs paid now, other benefits (in addition to carbon sequestration) may outweigh the extra cost.

Potential feedstocks

The NYC Parks Department, the Department of Transportation, and Con Edison are constantly pruning and removing trees within the City. How big is NYC’s supply of waste wood chips, and where it is going now?

How much wood is in NYC’s construction and demolition waste stream, and how much is being productively reused, or is going into landfills?  
Even if construction waste wood is chemically contaminated, charring it before landfilling would permanently sequester much of its carbon content and reduce its volume. Some contaminants can be rendered chemically inert or biologically unavailable after the material they’re in is turned into biochar.

August updates: According to the NYC Department of Sanitation's 2013 Waste Characterization Study, the City produces
3.25 million tons of waste annually.  Debris from construction and demolition has stayed the same as a percentage of aggregate discards between 2005 and 2013.

In 2013, treated / contaminated wood made up 1.3% of that total, and 0.8% was untreated lumber, pallets and crates. That may be 42,000 tons of contaminated wood and 26,000 tons of untreated wood.

Staff at NYC Parks Department report their inventory of wood chips ranges from anywhere from 35,000 - 70,000 cubic yards annually.  

Biochar production systems

NYC will have to research which of the many manufacturers of biochar production systems have a successful track record with municipal sewage biosolids, will be best suited for a pilot project, and can potentially scale up to NYC-sized volumes of sludge.

The International Biochar Initiative, the US Biochar Initiative, and the Ithaka Institute are biochar advocacy groups that can provide guidance among vendors.

Combined heat and power plants increase the energy efficiency of the fossil fuels they burn both by generating electricity and creating steam or hot water at the same time.  Can heat from existing in-city power generation facilities also be used simultaneously to produce biochar? Does this mean locating biochar ovens at power plants, and shipping waste for processing? Or if biochar ovens are best located at sewage treatment plants, can captured methane be burned for some or all of the heat they need?

Uses of biochar

In a project recognized by the European Mayors Challenge and C40 Cities, the City of Stockholm has started turning plant waste into biochar, and using it as a soil amendment for the city’s trees. 

The Ithaka Institute cites 55 uses for biochar. Some biochar processes can yield chemical byproducts that can be sold profitably to industrial users. 

If NYC can demonstrate a financially viable pathway for charring sewage biosolids, the model could be applied globally, boosting NYC’s role as a leader in climate response - and multiplying our carbon sequestration impacts.

Have some answers or suggestions? Please add your comment or contact me at 

Friday, July 21, 2017

LED lighting for NYC – and your apartment building

LED lighting for NYC – and your apartment building

Upgrading to energy efficient LED lighting is one of the easiest ways to reduce electricity use and greenhouse gas emissions.  Now that cities and states are leading the US response to climate change they can follow NYC’s example by supporting LED upgrades. Building owners and managers should carry out upgrades now while utility rebates are still available.  Here's how residents can get involved.

With our national government doing everything it can to support the fossil fuel industry and block climate change response, it’s urgent that cities and states lead the transition to a post-carbon economy.  Members of the US Conference of Mayors have agreed to work towards the Paris climate agreement, as have members of C40, a network of the world’s largest cities.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has already set the City’s goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.  He recently signed an executive order committing the City to the goals of the Paris Agreement, which includes holding the increase in the global average temperature to below 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  

New York City's Roadmap to 80 X 50 is a dense report that recaps the City's extensive research into local energy use, and the changes proposed to meet those goals.   About 70% of NYC’s energy use involves buildings (p. 56). 

The Buildings Technical Working Group "
analyzed nearly 100 low- and medium-difficulty energy conservation measures (ECMs) in existing buildings (typically with paybacks of 10 years or less) and found that these measures could reduce current building-based GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions by up to 33 percent." (p. 59)  One of those was the expansion of Local Law 88 to cover the common area lighting in residential buildings.  We'll get to that in a moment.

Lighting is the third-largest user of energy in the City’s buildings after heating and electronic appliances, responsible for 13% of the total. (NYC Energy and Water Use 2013 Report , p. 17, graph on p. 11)

Lighting is one of the top uses of power globally as well, accounting for about 15% of the world’s electricity use. One of the easiest ways to cut energy use and carbon emissions is to replace incandescent and fluorescent lights with LEDs (light emitting diodes).  LED lighting is one of the top 100 solutions to reverse global warming, as researched by scientists of Project Drawdown.
Diodes – crystal semiconductors that conduct electricity in only one direction – were first discovered in 1874.  Hundreds of applications for diodes have been developed since then, including LED bulbs in 1994.  While solar panels convert photons to electrons, LEDs convert electrons to photons.  They use 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, and 50 percent as much as compact fluorescent bulbs, to produce the same amount of light. Incandescent lights turn most of the energy they use into waste heat, while LEDs turn 80 percent of the energy they use into light. Also, LEDs last much longer than the other two types of bulbs – according to Project Drawdown, 27 years if used for five hours a day.

It’s just a question of time until LEDs become the standard lighting technology.  
General Electric is phasing out production of compact fluorescents.    The rapidly accelerating deployment of LED bulbs is on track to save U.S. consumers and businesses $20 billion a year in electricity costs in a decade, which would lower U.S. CO2 emissions by 100 million metric tons a year.  
LED lighting is especially valuable for low-income communities around the world without access to electric grids.  They can connect LEDs to small solar panels instead of costly, polluting kerosene lamps, for enormous quality of life benefits.                                  

While economic factors are moving the world toward near universal adoption of LED lighting, NYC is trying to speed up the process with its recent change in Local Law 88. This law had required LED lighting in the common areas (lobbies, hallways and fire stairs) of large buildings over 50,000 square feet in size.  In a few years, the requirement will be expanded to the much larger number of medium sized buildings above 25,000 s.f.  Here are two ways you can participate in NYC's push toward energy efficient lighting.

Upgrade your apartment with LEDs

Join the LED revolution by replacing the lights in your home or apartment.  Here are
light bulb guides from NRDC and from the US EPA’s Energy Star program.

Upgrade your building with LEDs

For a much, much bigger impact, get your entire apartment building to upgrade the common area lighting – lobby, hallways, basement, fire stairs – to LEDs. These projects provide
 a number of benefits for building managers, owners and coop / condo boards, and indirectly, to building residents. 
  • ·        Electric costs for lighting are sharply reduced.
  • ·        The savings will enable management to pay for other projects.  Since LEDs are very long lived, building staff will spend much less time replacing lights.
  • ·        Con Ed rebates will pay for up to 30% of the cost of the project. Building management must engage a Con Ed Market Partner to provide a lighting assessment, recommend and install Design Lights Consortium certified LED products, and apply for the rebates.
  • ·        Between the savings and the rebates, LED lighting upgrades will generally pay for themselves in about two years.
  • ·       LED upgrades of common areas will be required for all NYC buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to comply with Local Law 88.  While the law won’t take effect for several years, the Con Ed rebates for LED upgrades will be phased out before they are legally mandated.  Here’s how building managers should address LL 88 compliance.
  • ·        Here are initial steps for building managers considering LED upgrade projects.  To ensure the financial success of these projects, managers should look for LED products with very long warranties to guarantee they will be around, providing savings, for many years.

Green Partners will provide building management with a free lighting assessment, which will include estimated project costs, Con Ed rebates, electricity savings and return on investment. Green Partners, as a Con Ed Market Partner, is authorized to apply for Con Ed funding for these retrofits, and works with a Con Ed authorized electrician to install the upgrades.  Con Ed inspects the project before and after installation to ensure quality. 

Invite your building management to consider an LED upgrade

Connect me, as a 350NYC volunteer and the business development rep for Green Partners, with your building manager or coop board leader.  If your building goes ahead with an LED lighting upgrade, Green Partners will make a significant donation to 350 NYC, and will arrange a presentation for residents on LEDs and energy conservation.  


Switch to renewable energy for your home or apartment.

You can personally divest from fossil fuels.

Here’s another easy way action for individuals: switch to wind power. 
For most NYC residents, only 2% of the electricity from Con Ed or National Grid comes from renewable sources, the other 98% is from a mix of oil, gas, coal, hydroelectric and nuclear power.

If you’re a homeowner, or live in a coop or condo in a small apartment building, you could install solar panels, so contact Here Comes Solar for free guidance.

But most New Yorkers who pay their own utility bill will find that the easiest thing to do is switch to wind. Con Ed or National Grid will buy power from a wind farm.  You get the same monthly bill.  It will cost a few cents more per KWh (kilowatt hour) than your current electricity from fossil fuels, but you’re personally divesting from fossil fuels and investing in wind energy production.  As more people follow, the demand for wind will increase, more wind turbines will be installed and the price will drop further.

There are many energy service companies (ESCOs) that supply green energy. You can buy directly from Con Ed. You might be able to find green energy suppliers through the NYS Public Service Commission - but good luck navigating through their website. 

Or you can sign up with Clean Choice Energy.  Volunteers with researched and have endorsed Clean Choice Energy.  And, for each new subscriber, the company will make a donation to 350NYC. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Local climate leadership opportunities for New Yorkers after the Paris withdrawal

Trump recently announced his intent to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord. While this may not be as catastrophic as some suggest, as a reflection of the administration's evil, insane climate denial, it's still pretty bad.  NYC environmental and progressive groups quickly organized a rally downtown in front of City Hall.  Protests, as well as progressive campaigns to pressure elected officials, are necessary but not enough.  The elites running the show have enormous power, and many Americans are asleep.  How do we leverage our limited resources? Organize for NYC and NY State initiatives that advance our climate agenda, and also align with organizing for the 2018 midterms and other elections.

Some silver linings? For perspective, here are some reasons the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement is not completely bad news. 

- - The process for withdrawing the US from the treaty will take four years, so the final decision goes to US voters, making climate potentially a major topic in the next presidential election.

- - Perhaps without the US blocking international action as it has in the past, the world's nations will be better able to agree on more demanding actions.

- - Under the Paris agreement, the national contributions to carbon emission reductions were voluntary and unenforceable.  While it was good that countries agreed to the goals of keeping global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees C and preferably 1.5 C, we were going to blow past those limits anyway.  Stronger and faster action would still be needed.

-- Even North Korea ratified the Paris agreement.  Besides the US, only Nicaragua and Syria are not part of the agreement.  Nicaragua doesn't think it goes far enough, and Syria is distracted by its current civil war.  Highly visible and embarrassing actions like this may serve
to rouse the complacent, distracted and propagandized citizens of the US.  

- - The Trump administration's display of greed, ignorance and insanity in the face of global crisis is accelerating the growth of climate leadership around the world. 

Many nations, states and cities are stepping up their climate responses. 

China is making massive investments in renewable energy.  The new French President Macron made an epic reply to Trump, in English, inviting America's engineers and entrepreneurs to come to France and help "make our planet great again."

The Commonwealth of Nations, an intergovernmental organization made up of former British Empire states, may emerge as an international climate response force. Paul Hawken and a team of scientists
 researched the 100 most promising solutions to climate change and ranked them on cost, feasibility and effectiveness.  The Drawdown team spoke to a rapt and supportive audience of Commonwealth leaders.  Imagine if they were able to get that kind of response from the US Congress and Senate.   

Governor Jerry Brown of California announced a new alliance of US states, starting with California, New York, and Washington State, that will comply with the Paris accord even without Federal support. Many large cities around the world and in the US are acting.

But as evidence of the Trump administration's climate denial it's still pretty bad news. 

There's no point in speculating about how much damage the administration will cause in the next few years. Our situation is clearly much worse than it was in 2016.  So what's next?

Effective ways to resist includes contacting elected officials.

This blog will keep exploring the complex question of what to do next.   Future posts will look into how New Yorkers can effectively combine resistance to the administration while advocating for more renewable energy and lower fossil fuel use and carbon emissions.

After the election, progressive former Congressional staffers issued the Indivisible guide. They learned from the Tea Party protests that coordinated campaigns to call and write elected officials, as well as showing up at public meetings, are effective ways to apply pressure.  There are now nearly 6,000 local Indivisible groups.

The Five Calls app provides a list of progressive issues and connects users with the offices of their representatives.  It's simple: citizens can call the offices with their requests without reading off the entire script or becoming experts on the issue.

By the way: emailing elected officials or signing online petitions is pretty much a waste of time, so don't bother with it.

Protests are important too.    

Go to protests, like the Climate March in DC in April 2017  and smaller ones since then. Show with your presence that
many Americans do not consent to the actions of their national government.

Protests can counteract the bystander effect. Experiments have shown that people are less likely to help a victim or respond to an emergency when all the other bystanders are ignoring the problem.  It increases apathy. So try to join protests about your priority issues or spread word that they happened, to remind the public that some of us are jumping in.

Why is only a minority actively pushing for progressive change? 

The musician Moby has a great animated video accompanying one of his songs.  It illustrates the mind-numbing power of the matrix of commerce, entertainment, and social media.  It will remind you of what you already know. Take a break to watch it now...

Many Americans are aware that climate change exists, and believe something should be done about it, but are not doing anything differently, let alone going to rallies.  Maybe they're distracted, hypnotized, brainwashed, looking at their phones, or busy with their own lives. Or they don't believe that climate change will affect them directly.

Maybe they bought into the subliminal stories that someone else will fix it, or that new technology will be invented that will erase the problem.  There's a body of literature on communicating about climate change.  I recall that messages that do well beyond the choir of activists include the creation of green jobs and economic growth from embracing renewable energy, so those should be key themes.  That needs more research.

Either way, when only a tiny minority is willing to get involved, and the majority does nothing, the kleptocratic (the rule of thieves) Trump administration and their allies  will plunder and destroy the nation and the planet for short term profits.

How do we wake up more people and get them involved? 

Since we're in New York City, what can we do locally? How do we focus our actions so they generate yet more positive social change, in NYC, in New York State, nationally and globally?

I'm a volunteer with 350NYC, the local chapter of the international climate change group,

"350 uses online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions to oppose new coal, oil and gas projects, take money out of the companies that are heating up the planet, and build 100% clean energy solutions that work for all. 350's network extends to 188 countries."

350NYC has focused on the campaigns to divest NY City and State pension funds from fossil fuel companies.  Group members have been very involved with campaigns against fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure.  To get more New Yorkers involved with our group and the climate movement, we're looking for City and State initiatives that we can get behind and for which we can build grassroots support.

This is not a simple task.  Since Mayor Bloomberg launched PlaNYC in 2007, the City has been making continual improvements in sustainability, energy use and resilience.  Many of the initiatives have been within City agencies and go unnoticed by the public.

Some trigger public controversy.  Bloomberg offered congestion pricing, a plan to raise fees on vehicles driving into midtown Manhattan during peak traffic hours, to encourage more use of mass transit, as part of the original PlaNYC rollout.  State legislators from suburban areas fought back against imagined inconvenience to their constituents and the initiative was withdrawn.  More recently, legislation to put a small fee on plastic bags at grocery stores was defeated by State legislators.

This may be an ideal time to raise the bar and push for climate initiatives that may have been easily beaten in the past, and to shine a light on officials who oppose them.

What are the best NYC initiatives for environmental groups to support?

Criteria include how much the initiative will:

-  reduce energy use, costs and carbon emissions
-  increase renewable energy production capacity
-  reduce pollution and waste
-  reduce human health consequences
-  address environmental justice issues (the siting of polluting facilities in economically disadvantaged and minority neighborhoods)
-  support green economic development and green jobs
- make NYC more resilient to extreme weather events such as flooding and heat waves

Also, is the initiative:
- capable of gaining the support of the NYC Council and the di Blasio administration
- offer perceived benefit to a wide range of New Yorkers
- get more New Yorkers involved beyond the narrow demographic of environmental activists
- offer benefits rapidly and widely enough to generate public appeal
- not be so technical or abstract in its benefits that it can't be easily explained

NYC is perceived to be a blue city in a blue state, but we are not homogenous and should not be complacent.  Further, if campaigns for NYC / NY State climate friendly initiatives aren't aligned with 2018 midterm election organizing, we're missing the point and dispersing our energies, perhaps fatally. and 350NYC are not partisan and do not focus on specific elections.   One climate group that does is The Climate Mobilization.  
TCM says we are in an urgent climate emergency and need a World War II scale climate mobilization to lower carbon emissions much more rapidly than commonly discussed.  For example instead of 80% reductions by 2050, their goal is 100% renewable energy and zero carbon emissions by 2030. 

Their strategy report analyzes political, economic and social factors, and calls for electing Congress members in 2018 and a new President in 2020 that support emergency climate action.
There may or may not be members of the NYC Council who are standing in the way of climate initiatives.  This needs to be researched.

Organizing in support of City initiatives can at the same time identify and recruit activists for NY State initiatives.

There are certainly going to be members of the New York State Assembly and Senate who are standing in the way of climate initiatives.  This needs to be researched.

Are there progressive candidates who plan to challenge non-supportive Councilmembers, Assemblymembers and Senators? That too needs to be researched.

Efforts to promote climate-supporting initiatives can be specifically targeted to particular districts.  Identifying and recruiting pro-climate activists in those districts will lay the groundwork to make climate an issue in that district for the next election.

NY State climate initiatives, and NYC initiatives that can be easily replicated by small cities and towns, can be offered to NY State activists and candidates in swing districts. 

Swing Left has identified 65 Congressional districts in which the last House of Representatives election was determined by 15% or less of votes. "If we hold the 17 vulnerable Democratic-held districts, we only need to flip 24 House seats—exactly half of the 48 Republican-held districts on our list—to take back the house in 2018."

For example, two NY State swing districts not far from NYC are #3, the north coast of Long Island, whichTom Suozzi won by only 17,241 votes (5.6%), and #19, the mid-Hudson. John Faso won it by only 26,000 votes (8.6%)

I'd appreciate your comments and suggestions.  

Future posts will include close looks at upcoming and potential NYC legislation, and climate initiatives for NYC. 

- - - - - - -

Addendum: my personal opinions on a few background factors to the 2016 election

- - The trends taking us to this point have been going on for a long time.  The Story of Stuff traces the history of our consumer economy.  In the early 1970s, the Powell memo catalyzed decades of massive big business funding of anti-progressive lobbying and propaganda.

- - The Democratic National Committee and Hilary Clinton, as well as the Republicans, were captured long ago by big business and military interests. Those interests have been making the rich richer at the expense of the working class, the middle class, and a sustainable infrastructure and energy system, both in the US and globally, for a long time.

- - Bernie Sanders offered a genuine populist response and would have beaten phony populist Trump.  Hilary was unable to speak out against the neoliberal, corporate consensus, which she basically supported.  Hilary and the DNC squelched Sanders, refused to reach out to his progressive movement, and ran a bad campaign.  Many desperate but ignorant voters were conned into voting for Trump.  Many didn't bother to vote. Those non-voters may be more easily convinced to vote in 2018 and 2020 than members of the pro-Trump base.

- - The Republicans have expanded their control over US government by massive voter suppression (Operation Crosscheck, as documented by Greg Palast), gerrymandering (drawing election districts so that districts include a majority supporting the party drawing up the districts, leaving supporters of other parties as permanent minorities), propaganda networks like Fox News, and powerful stealth social media operations like Cambridge Analytica (connected to Steve Bannon) that played Facebook.

- - It will take a massive and focused progressive organizing effort to overcome these factors.