This story is a collaboration between chalk beat and THE CITY.
New York City will commit billions of dollars to convert 100 fuel-powered public school buildings to cleaner energy by 2030 as part of an effort to comply with emissions reductions mandated by city law, it said. Mayor Eric Adams on Friday.
The city will spend about $4 billion over the next seven years on a plan that includes retrofitting 100 school buildings so they no longer burn fossil fuels for heating. This change will help bring the city closer to compliance with Local Law 97, which sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions that buildings must meet starting in 2024.
Adams also announced that every new school building, including those already under construction, will be all-electric, putting the city a bit ahead of schedule on a separate 2021 city law that effectively bans gas in new construction starting in 2024.
Newly constructed public school buildings must be fossil fuel free from 2025 under this law.
“Every New York City school we build in the future will be all-electric,” Adams said Friday during a press conference at PS 5 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which will be the first to be retrofitted as part of of the new plan. “More boilers, more burning dirty fuel, more contribution to asthma.”
The 100 existing schools whose boilers will be removed and heating systems refitted are all located in neighborhoods with high levels of asthma, Adams said. Pollutants released when heating fuels are burned can contribute to health problems, including asthma, that disproportionately affect black and Latino children in New York City.
“I was just down in the basement,” Adams told the assembled elementary students during Friday’s announcement. “The boiler is noisy, it burns fossil fuel, which creates a bad environment. We are going to replace this system.
The city’s aging public school buildings, which still rely heavily on fuel oil and gas for heating, are a major source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, spewing the equivalent of 154,000 carbon dioxide emissions cars every year.
The city’s sweeping law passed in 2019 requires major city buildings – public and private – to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of reducing overall building emissions by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.
City officials said the plan rolled out on Friday would go a long way towards achieving that goal, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 120,000 tonnes a year, the equivalent of taking 26,000 cars off the road.
The city’s Department of Education has already reduced emissions by 14% in more than 800 buildings between 2014 and 2019, according to a recent report by the Center for an Urban Future.
The city’s new initiative, dubbed “Leading the Charge,” will also include a $540 million effort to install more efficient LED lighting in 800 schools and help end the use of No. 4 petroleum — a variety particularly polluting – by 2026, according to city officials. Oil No. 4 is supposed to be phased out of most buildings by 2030 under city law, and lawmakers were recently considering a bill that would push the deadline to 2025.
Clean energy initiatives will cost about $4 billion by 2030. The city has already “committed” $2 billion and will need to “identify remaining funds in future years,” officials said. It was unclear if any of the funding came from federal COVID relief stimulus money.
Clean energy advocates have pointed out that while upfront costs are high, retrofitting can also help save money in the long run by reducing fuel costs. The city did not immediately provide an estimate of how much money the initiative will save.
Robert Troeller, president of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 891, which represents custodial engineers, said he hadn’t heard of the details of the new plan yet, but “it’s certainly a good general direction for the city and the state.”
Troeller added that his only concern was for all the “people who lose their jobs because of this.”
City officials said the initiative will create new jobs for “union electricians, plumbers, steam fitters and machinists,” which will help steer schools away from No. 4 oil, but did not provide a estimate of the number of new jobs.
The education department also plans to expand vocational and technical training offerings to train students interested in working on the construction and maintenance of the new all-electric systems.