The Council of the City of New York
Office of Council Member Costa Constantinides
(718) 274-4500

For Immediate Release
December 7, 2015
Contact: Shachar Sharon

City Council Unanimously Passes Constantinides Bill to Encourage Geothermal Energy
Social Costs of Carbon Emissions to be used in Determining Cost-Efficiency for First Time in City History

New York City Hall – The New York City Council today voted unanimously to pass INT. 609-A, which will promote that will promote the use of geothermal systems throughout the city, an energy-efficient form of cooling and heating buildings. This bill marks the first time in New York City history that the social cost of carbon will be used to measure cost-efficiency as part of city policy. The long-term impact of carbon emissions will be considered as part of a cost-efficiency analysis for installing geothermal in city-owned buildings.

Buildings account for 71% of carbon emissions citywide. Geothermal energy systems work similarly to traditional building HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) systems and help reduce reliance on fuel-fired burners and cooling towers. These systems operate by utilizing stored heat under the Earth’s crust in the winter. They also cool people off in the summer by channeling heat into the ground. Geothermal systems are currently used at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the Queens Botanical Garden, and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

Constantinides said, “This bill represents the first time in city history that the social cost of carbon will be considered as part of implementing an environmental policy. Using geothermal technology in city-owned buildings will save us money, will reduce our carbon footprint, and offer a roadmap for environmental leadership for the private sector to follow. The online screening tool will also provide an opportunity for informed private geothermal installations, making them more simple and safe for people to install in their homes and commercial buildings. I thank Speaker Mark-Viverito, Mayor DeBlasio and the Office of Sustainability for their partnership and commitment to reach our shared goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 in NYC.”

“As a clean, renewable source of power, geothermal heat is exactly the type of innovation that will help New York become a greener, more sustainable city,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Through this legislation, we’re taking another step toward our goal of reducing New York City’s carbon emissions by 80 percent before the year 2050.”

Nilda Mesa, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, said, “Our study earlier this year showed that New York City has some of the best geology and conditions for the adoption of geothermal systems. At the same time, in areas that are not suited for these systems it’s important for building owners to know that up front. We look forward to clearing the way for more geothermal systems in NYC at less cost and planning time for building owners, and to finding ways to use this strategy even more often in our own municipal buildings where we can. How fitting that the earth’s constant temperature can help us meet our 80×50 goals.”

INT. 609-A will:

  • Require the city to develop, and make publicly available online, a screening tool that can be used to determine the geological feasibility of installing a geothermal system at any given building throughout the city. The online tool would be used by both the public and private sector.
  • Encourage the installation of geothermal systems in city-owned buildings that are newly constructed or being retrofitted. If a building is identified as appropriate by the screening tool, a cost-benefit analysis, as well as a more thorough engineering analysis, will be conducted. This analysis would take into account not only the costs of geothermal installation, but also expected utility bill savings and “social costs” such as the benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Ensure that the city recommends standards for the installation of geothermal systems; qualifications for those who install these systems; maintaining a public registry of qualified installers; and informing property owners and geothermal system installers of the benefits of coupling such systems with solar power. The pairing of solar systems could render some buildings completely emissions neutral.

Geothermal systems function as energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly building HVAC units, as little additional energy must be spent on heating or cooling. A study by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that geothermal heat pumps are the most energy efficient, environmentally clean and cost effective space-conditioning systems available, with the lowest carbon dioxide emissions. These systems have fewer components than traditional HVAC systems, their components are less exposed to outdoor weather conditions, and they have a longer lifespan. There is currently no regulatory framework or licensing for installing geothermal systems.

Constantinides has made sustainability and environmental protection a top priority. In addition to INT. 609, Constantinides has taken steps legislatively to meet the 80% emissions reduction goal by introducing bills that encourage the use of solar energy and biofuels. Last year, the City Council passed his bill, now Local Law 66 of 2014, to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Earlier this year, the City Council passed his bill, now Local Law 92 of 2015, that mandates commercial establishments conserve energy.

Environmental advocates praised the legislation.

“Geothermal energy is an opportunity to sustainably heat and cool our city’s buildings. Council Member Constantinides’ bill helps lay the groundwork to make geothermal potential a reality in New York City,” said Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “We applaud the Council for their taking another concrete step toward reducing our emissions 80 percent by 2050.”

“Int. 609-A builds upon a long tradition of City Council leadership on increasing the deployment of clean energy in New York City,” said Donna De Costanzo, Director of Northeast Energy and Sustainable Communities at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Facilitating the use of geothermal technology in City buildings, along with other renewables, will help achieve our climate goals along with energy cost savings, cleaner air and a more resilient grid.”

Council Member Costa Constantinides represents the New York City Council’s 22nd District, which includes his native Astoria along with parts of Woodside, East Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights. He serves as the chair the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee and sits on six additional committees: Civil Service & Labor, Contracts, Cultural Affairs, Oversight & Investigations, Sanitation, and Transportation. For more information, visit council.nyc.gov/costa.

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