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Stuck In The Middle: The Battle Over Climate Change

The number of cities requiring new construction to be all-electric is on the rise, and now Washington has made this requirement statewide. Washington has become the first state to require the use of heat pumps to electrify new buildings. Last week, Washington’s Building Code Council voted 11-3 to restrict the use of gas in new office complexes, apartment towers, and other large facilities, beginning in July 2023. Washington state now has the strongest standards in the country for electrifying commercial buildings.

This move, in particular, works well for a state like Washington. Washington has one of the cleanest and greenest energy grids in the country which runs largely on hydroelectric power from the Columbia River and the state’s many dams. This means that the power generated from the newly mandated heat pumps will be coming from a renewable energy source, as opposed to fossil fuels, like natural gas. This is a common grievance among people who see the switch to all-electric as counterproductive since the electricity to power these buildings would be coming from a fossil fuel source.

Comparatively, New York City’s aggressive energy measures, which includes the requirement that most new commercial buildings, starting in 2024, be all electric, maybe a little trickier to accomplish. While Washington has one of the greenest grids in the United States, New York City does not. New York City’s grid is almost 150 years old and will require a major greening of its electric grid. NYC will have to make a lot more changes to reach the level Washington has already achieved. Building large-scale renewables nearby is challenging, and the existing transmission lines to bring clean energy from elsewhere are maxed out. In the near term, the grid will also get dirtier with the closing of Indian Point’s nuclear facility, which created no carbon emissions, and has historically provided a quarter of NYC’s electricity.

Nearly 50 percent of NYC’s electricity comes from in-city power plants. The rest comes from Westchester and transmission lines that connect the city to over 6,000 MW of power from surrounding regions. Greening NYC’s electricity depends on either bringing renewable energy in from areas where it’s plentiful or cheaper to develop or by building them. Renewables require much more space and capacity to provide the same energy as fossil fuel generators. Since land near NYC is expensive and densely populated, the leading emerging source of local, large-scale clean power is offshore wind energy, but getting offshore wind energy built is a long and arduous process.

Of course, no two states, two cities, or two grids are the same. While going all electric works well in one state, especially when you can get that electricity from a green source, it may not be as easy in other areas, despite the desire to reach the same goal. Unfortunately, this issue is not as easy as just creating a law and there’s not a one size fits all solution. Especially, in NYC where they have no clear execution strategy and a dirty grid on top of that. And NYC isn’t the only state with this problem, but before moving ahead NYC may need to tackle their green issues first before they begin to tackle anything else.

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