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Energy Efficiency, Green Jobs Standards Now Law in New York State

July 5, 2022 by Dan McCue
New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul.

NEW YORK — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a legislative package of three bills into law on July 5 that proponents say will promote clean energy development and energy efficiency while reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the Empire State for decades to come.

It’s all about building a “stronger and more resilient New York,” Hochul said at the bill signing at Newlab, a multidisciplinary technology center housed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“Now more than ever, the importance of a cost-effective green transformation is clear, and strengthening building codes and appliance standards will reduce carbon emissions and save New Yorkers billions of dollars by increasing efficiency,” Hochul added.

“This multi-pronged legislative package will not only replace dirty fossil fuel infrastructure, but it will also further cement New York as the national leader in climate action and green jobs,” she said.   

The three new laws support New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which established the goal of an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in New York by 2050 while ensuring “a just and equitable transition” for New York workers and communities. 

The first, rather cumbersomely named Advanced Building Codes, Appliance and Equipment Efficiency Standards Act of 2022, updates the state’s energy code to include improved energy and water efficiency standards for appliances.

The second is the Utility Thermal Energy Network and Jobs Act, which requires the Public Service Commission to develop a regulatory structure for utility thermal energy networks — including district geothermal and other community-scale thermal infrastructure projects — for heating and cooling homes, and to direct utilities to launch pilot projects in their service territories.

The third piece of legislation signed by Hochul on Tuesday requires developers of renewable energy projects of 1 MW or larger who receive energy credits from a public entity to pay the “prevailing wage” to workers on the project.

A prevailing wage is the basic hourly rate of wages and benefits paid to a number of similarly employed workers in a given geography.

Earlier this year, the New York State Climate Action Council, a 22-member committee preparing a scoping plan to achieve the state’s clean energy and climate resilience goals, issued a jobs study that found the buildings sector would account for well over half the jobs added in the growing clean energy field between 2022 and 2030. 

At the same time, the study estimated employment in the overall buildings sector could grow to approximately 366,000 workers by 2040.

State officials said the legislative package signed Tuesday is just one part of “a holistic suite of policies and programs” needed to drive decarbonization in the buildings sector at scale and realize “significant opportunities for near-, medium-, and long-term job growth.” 

In addition to the wage standards, the legislation requires developers to enter into a labor peace agreement with at least one labor organization seeking to represent employees involved in the necessary operations and maintenance services; to comply with Buy American Act provisions for steel and iron products in the construction phase; and imposes a bidding process to incentivize New York State renewable energy equipment and supplies during construction.

When the bills were originally passed, Gary LaBarbera, president of the New York State Building & Construction Trades Council, called the legislation “excellent news for New York.”

“This accomplishment reinforces that good, middle-class careers with benefits must be — and now will be — central to our state’s sustainable economy,” he said.

New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul signs new climate legislation.

Likewise, Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said the bills are “a tremendous victory that provides the right foundation needed to create good jobs utilizing a highly skilled workforce as we address climate change here in New York State.”

“For our great state to reach [clean energy and climate] goals it will take an all-of-the-above approach,” said Democratic State Senator Kevin Parker, who sponsored two of the bills signed into law in Brooklyn.

“Buildings are the single largest user of energy in the state of New York, and the largest source of greenhouse gases and other climate emissions, due to the combustion of fossil fuels for heating, domestic hot water, as well cooking,” he said. “Ultimately, this legislation helps tie local, union jobs and efforts to decarbonize buildings and neighborhoods at an affordable price due to utilities’ cheaper cost of capital, all of which is in the public’s interest.” 

Speaking to the labor components of the package, Democratic State Senator Jessica Ramos, chair of the state Senate Labor Committee said, “Putting prevailing wages and organized labor at the helm of our state’s transition to renewable energy will allow New York to lift up communities with family sustaining wages while leading on our efforts to tackle the climate crisis.”

Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN NY, an alliance of labor and community leaders, described the legislation as “an example of what comes out of that collective action.” 

“It presents an opportunity to effectively decarbonize our buildings at the scale necessary, and transform New York’s electric and gas utilities,” she said. “It enables them to build emissions-free thermal energy networks while keeping the current workforce and creating middle-class career jobs for low-income communities and communities of color hit first and worst by the climate crisis.”

“We are thrilled that Gov. Hochul has signed the Utility Thermal Energy Network and Jobs Act, which has the potential to revolutionize the way we heat and cool our communities,” said Jessica Azulay, executive director of the Alliance for a Green Economy. “We look forward to working together with the administration, labor unions, community organizations and utilities to implement this solution to the climate crisis that will make renewable heating more accessible and affordable, and create good union jobs.”

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and @DanMcCue

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