New buildings must go electric under City Council deal

Shorter buildings face mandate in 2024, taller ones in 2027

The City Council reached a deal on a bill that will require new buildings with fewer than seven stories to go electric in 2024, and then will apply to buildings taller than that in 2027.

The City Council is poised to ban the use of gas in new buildings, requiring most to use electricity-powered heat and hot water.

Lawmakers reached a deal late Wednesday on a bill requiring new buildings shorter than seven stories to go electric on Jan. 1, 2024, and taller ones after July 1, 2027. Projects that get their construction documents approved before those dates will be exempt.

A building with fewer than seven stories and at least half of its units subject to an affordable housing regulatory agreement is spared from the requirement if construction documents are approved before Dec. 31, 2025. A new building that is taller and has such an agreement will have two more years beyond that.

Some burning of fossil fuel in new buildings will be allowed, but not for heat and hot water. The measure allows the combustion of 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide per million British thermal units of energy or more if it has nothing to do with the building’s heat or hot water and is only used intermittently.

That threshold rules out natural gas (53 kilograms) and heating oil (70), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But the requirements do not apply to the use of fossil fuel when it is necessary for manufacturing or operation of a laboratory, laundromat, hospital, crematorium or commercial kitchen.

According to New York Communities for Change, a group that has advocated for the measure, the City Council will vote on the bill next week. The Council is known to schedule votes only for bills that have enough support to pass.

“The evidence is clear: An immediate shift to requiring gas-free buildings is both feasible and necessary,” a coalition led by NYCC, NYPIRG, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and Food & Water Watch said in a statement. “We have the technology and the skills to build all-electric buildings, many of which are already built or under construction across the city.”

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The amended measure, sponsored by Council member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, delays the gas and oil ban: An earlier version applied to new construction and major renovations within two years of its passage. The latest bill language is closer to the de Blasio administration’s demand that gas hookups be banned by 2030.

It also does not seem to apply to renovations, a mandate that was not clearly defined in the original bill and had been a point of contention, and likely would have further held up negotiations. The mayor and most City Council members are in their final month in office.

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The latest version also partially adopts a size-based phase-in favored by the real estate industry. The Real Estate Board of New York supported a ban that would apply in new construction with fewer than three stories and single-family homes in 2025, buildings with fewer than 10 stories in 2027 and taller projects in 2030.

The trade group had pointed to the need to test electric heat pumps in large-scale buildings, and to the fact that New York still relies heavily on electricity generated by burning fossil fuels.

A report by the New York Independent System Operator this month warns that the state’s electric system will be less able to “withstand disturbances” starting in 2025 and its reliability could be endangered if planned transmission projects are delayed.

“The transition away from fossil fuels is only possible if we have reliable electricity so that New Yorkers can confidently turn on their heat in the winter, their air conditioning in the summer, and the lights in the office,” REBNY’s James Whelan said in a statement this week. “This report is a serious wake-up call that policies need to be more carefully coordinated with these very real risks in mind.”

Meanwhile, the state legislature could step in and speed up the process and apply it statewide. A bill has been introduced to require new buildings to be all-electric by 2024.