Is New York City’s 80×50 Legislation the Future of Urban America?

If you’re a building owner or facility manager operating in today’s urban built environment, New York City’s ambitious campaign to retrofit existing buildings and slash carbon emissions has probably grabbed your attention in recent months. On Earth Day 2019, the mayor’s office and city council rolled out New York City’s version of a Green New Deal—“The Climate Mobilization Act”—a package of bills designed to curb city carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050, or 80×50.

Now the law of the land, these emissions limits have been topic du jour among New York’s real estate and AEC circles and have raised many questions about the future of design. Political overtones aside, the task now rests with consulting engineers, along with our architect colleagues, to identify elegant solutions for our clients’ buildings.

Every building is unique and faces a diverse set of challenges. As we enter a new era of sustainability, it is incumbent upon us, as AEC professionals, to develop guiding principles to lead our clients through this new territory.

The legislative driver behind New York’s 80×50 requires existing buildings over 25,000 square feet to comply with greenhouse-gas-emission targets as determined by New York City Department of Buildings occupancy groups.


The legislative driver behind New York’s 80×50—the City Council’s Intro-1253—was introduced in 2018 and requires existing buildings over 25,000 square feet to comply with greenhouse-gas-emission targets as determined by New York City Department of Buildings occupancy groups. (See “NYC Department of Buildings Occupancy Groups”, right.)

Although a similar measure introduced in the New York City Council in 2017 only curbed fossil-fuel consumption for specific building types, Intro-1253 is more far- reaching; it includes emission limits associated with all energy fuel sources.

Since its introduction, Intro-1253 received several revisions. Notable changes impacting building owners and the design community include the following:

  • Defines the role and responsibilities of the newly assigned Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance. The appointed director must be a registered design professional.
  • Specifies building emission intensity limits (tons of CO2 equivalent per square foot per year) per the New York City Department of Buildings occupancy group, rather than bundling groups together, to be more representative of how buildings actually use energy.
  • Excludes “rent-regulated accommodations” from established building emission limits similar to building occupancy group R-2 but requiring an advisory board to provide recommendations as part of their key goals.
  • Postpones the first compliance period—originally starting in 2022, now 2024—with emission intensity limits reset- ting accordingly, permitting building owners more time to strategize retrofit capital planning.
  • Prescribes greenhouse-gas coefficients of energy consumption per fuel type for calendar years 2024-29 and acknowledges greenhouse-gas coefficients should be re-evaluated and refined by 2023 for future compliance years, thus helping improve accuracy of the electric grid’s contribution in the future when additional renewables are part of electric production.
  • Establishes building emission intensity limits for compliance years 2030-34, initially ending in 2049.
  • Permits deductions for compliance years 2024-29, most notably allowing from 10 percent initially, up to 100 percent for accepted renewable-energy credits as long as they are associated directly deliverable into Zone J load zone (power supplied directly to the NYC grid). Allows deductions for compliance years 2024-29 associated with clean distributed energy resources, allowing electric demand reductions to be part of the plan because they still play a vital role in carbon reduction given the current electric grid system.
  • Allows adjustments to the building emission intensity limit for non-profit hospitals and health-care facilities, reducing the limit by up to 15 percent for compliance years 2024-29 and 30 percent for compliance years 2030-34.

The Department of Buildings newly established Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance, the Mayor’s office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, and an appointed Advisory Board will evaluate and present findings associated with the following that will further shape the discussion around retrofits:

  • Carbon emission coefficients for sources not provided from a local utility, such as cogeneration plants, and refinements for all coefficients for calendar years 2030 and beyond.
  • Permitted deductions for annual building emissions limits related to purchase of renewable energy credits, greenhouse-gas offsets or implementation of clean distributed energy resources.
  • Carbon trading study that could develop a marketplace for credit trading, pricing mechanisms and credit verification.

About the Author

Jeff Rios, P.E., and Charlie Marino, CEA
Jeff Rios, P.E., LEED AP, is a partner, and Charlie Marino, CEA, LEED AP O+M, is service leader, Energy Services, with AKF Engineering, New York. Marino also is co-chair of the NYC Mayor’s Office 80x50 Technical Working Groups and a member of the planning committee.

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