Missing the Bull’s Eye

The Obama Administration has an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and to 83% by 2050. With GHG being the number one contributor to global warming, this initiative could not have made me, my kids and the polar bears any happier.

Many emitted GHGs come from old, antiquated coal power plants in desperate need of mothballing or upgrades. Creating stricter emissions guidelines for these plants is a great first step. Another step in the right direction is the focus on alternative energy. Developing photovoltaic power, wind energy and nuclear generation are all huge steps to reaching these reduction targets.

However, the biggest and most important item that is being overlooked time and time again is improving the energy efficiency of our current building stock. We are pouring billions of dollars into power plants, smart grids and alternative energy – all of which are needed – but little is being done to clean up existing buildings, which account for 40% of all GHGs emitted.

Of all initiatives laid out, I have not seen a clear cut plan yet; just ideas thrown out there that make sense but have no concrete steps. I see a target, but no clear path of how to get there. It’s good that we’ve set an end goal, but now we have to figure out how to get there. Corporations want to know, states want to know, cities want to know. Heck, I want to know.

Previously, I thought that NYC Mayor Bloomberg had a solution. His PlaNYC program targeted a 30% reduction by 2030. He mandated energy audits and existing building commissioning on all buildings over 50,000-square-feet. Sadly, he buckled under pressure from the real estate industry and removed the requirement to implement capital improvements. I’m incredibly disappointed in the Mayor for not standing behind his original proposal, which would have made NYC an even greener city. But, I am still intrigued by what our city could look like in years to come.

I understand we’re all experiencing pain from the recession; however, when will it ever be a “good time” to invest into cleaning up our buildings? I think the cost of doing nothing and waiting for “another day” is far worse. It’s one thing to identify energy conservation measures in buildings – which at least the legislation will require via an energy audit – but what use is the information if owners are not required to convert the data into action?


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