building with big hand painting green paint

Hailed as “green” when it was completed in 2010, the $1.8 Bank of America Tower in New York City is now set to fail the city’s ambitious emissions laws by an estimated 50 per cent in 2024. Those behind the failure claim that electrifying this tower could be disastrous. 

In 2019, New York City passed Local Law 97, placing carbon emissions caps on almost 50,000 of its biggest buildings. 

In the Big Apple, a penalty of $US268 (around $A358) is charged for every tonne of CO2e above the limit. It’s part of New York City’s roadmap to 80×50 (to reduce greenhouse gases 80 per cent by 2050), outlining the ambitious but achievable commitments the city of 8.8 million has made. 

These buildings are failing the green test so badly that an estimated 20 per cent of them are expected to be fined for excessive emissions in 2024 when the law comes into effect. In 2030, when the caps are lowered by 40 per cent it is likely that even more will be fined, according to a recent article in Bloomberg

One such building is the Bank of America Tower which faces millions of dollars in fines if it can’t get in line. The building, called One Bryant Park located on the corner of 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, was designed by Cookfox and Adamson Associates, and developed by one of the oldest family-run commercial and residential real estate companies in New York City, the Durst Organization. 

The problem with this tower is that although upon completion it was hailed as the city’s greenest and given a LEED Platinum certification by the US Green Building Council, this building is expected to overshoot its carbon cap by an estimated 50 per cent in 2024. That’s an annual fine of $2.4 million unless its energy usage can be dramatically curtailed. 

Durst Corporation president Douglas Durst is a critic of the New Yorks green laws.

The Durst Corporation is Local Law 97’s biggest critics, claiming that electrification of the building isn’t as simple as it would appear. 

Douglas Durst, the corporation’s president, says it would be too costly to replace all the infrastructure, and that since the city is almost entirely dependent upon fossil fuels, electrification is not going to solve the problem. New York gets its power from fossil-fueled power plants and hydroelectric facilities, but it aims to increase its solar and wind installations.

He also claims that abandoning natural gas in New York’s buildings means that a winter-time blackout could be disastrous. 

Cities around the world are taking steps to address these problems, and cities in extremely cold climates do have additional challenges when it comes to keeping their citizens warm during winter. But there are many innovative solutions that can fix the problem. 

For example, in Helsinki, Finland, district heating is the most popular method of avoiding the freezing temperatures. 

This infrastructure generates and captures heat in hot water and steam, and distributes it on a large scale through pre-insulated underground pipes to buildings. Finnish state-owned energy company Fortum’s district heating serves 90 per cent of the building stock of Stockholm – in comparison to one third of one per cent in North America.

For every roadblock to sustainability, there is always an innovative solution – you just have to look for it.

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  1. One Bryant Park is one of the most energy efficient buildings on the planet because of innovative solutions such as a 4.6 Megawatt combined heat and power plant and nearly 40,000 gallons of thermal ice storage. The Durst Organization invested in these sustainability features years before the adoption any regulatory scheme or government mandate. While the intent of Local Law 97 is admirable, it perversely discourages density and encourages urban sprawl and would force high-performing buildings like One Bryant Park to produce more carbon in order for it to comply with the law. The innovation solution we need are laws that reward density and efficiency and actually reverse climate change as opposed to leveling punitive and counterproductive fines.