Heat pumps, smart HVACR controls, thermal energy networks, and an increase in the number of energy-efficient buildings are central to the state of New York’s multipronged decarbonization plan.

The New York Climate Action Council (CAC) “scoping plan,” which calls for cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% by 2030 and by 85% by 2050, compared to their 1990 level, was ratified in December and sent to the state Legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Other goals in the 445-page plan include generating 70% of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2040; upgrades to the built environment, including the electrical grid, that make it more resilient to the effects of climate change; and the creation of thousands of jobs in sectors of the economy that will be responsible for these and other transformations.

“New York State is advancing some of the nation’s most ambitious climate and clean energy goals,” said Doreen Harris, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and a CAC co-chair. “And we are proud to be an example other states can follow.”

The state’s roughly six million buildings accounted for an estimated 32% of New York’s GHG emissions in 2019, the plan says, a larger proportion than any other sector. The transportation sector was the second-largest contributor, accounting for an estimated 28% of emissions.

The CAC plan envisions up to 2 million New York homes being outfitted with heat pumps by 2030, with another 250,000 more heat pumps being installed in homes every year after that. It also says that up to 20% of commercial space statewide should be heated and cooled with heat pumps by 2030. By 2050, the plan says, 85% of homes and commercial building space should be using heat pumps or thermal energy networks, such as geothermal and waste-heat systems. The plan predicts more than 100,000 new jobs in energy-efficient construction and non-fossil-fuel heating and cooling by 2030.

The building decarbonization strategy doesn’t stop with heat pumps and thermal energy; smart controls, building upgrades aimed at energy savings, energy storage systems, building practices that reduce embedded carbon, and a phasedown of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants are all discussed.

Other facets of the plan’s building decarbonization strategy include:

  • Adopting zero-emissions building codes and requiring energy benchmarking for buildings.
  • Increasing public financial incentives and access to financing for building decarbonization projects. Leveraging incentives included in the Inflation Reduction and other federal legislation was also suggested.
  • Supporting innovation and workforce development, and increasing public awareness efforts.

The plan suggests a price tag of $6.8 billion for lowering building emissions and more than $35 billion for renewable energy and energy transmission projects.

The plan also touts what it says are economic, social, and health benefits of building a greener economy.

“All New Yorkers will benefit from a just transition that supports vibrant, healthy communities and repairs structural inequalities in access to housing, credit, employment, economic opportunities, environmental resources, and a clean and healthy environment,” reads a section in the chapter on buildings.

The 22-member CAC, which was created by the state’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, voted 19-3 in favor of the plan on December 19.

CAC member Gavin J. Donohue, president and CEO of the Independent Power Producers of New York Inc., a trade group, cast one of the three dissenting votes, saying the plan doesn’t adequately addresses energy costs and grid reliability, and that it should push for technological advances rather than bans and moratoriums.

“The plan should not impose bans on fuels, appliances, and facilities, especially where such bans would sacrifice reliability, cost-efficiency, and resiliency,” Donohue said in a prepared statement.

Under the state’s climate law, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, using the new plan as a guide, has until next January 1 to draft regulations to meet the law’s GHG reduction goals.

New York City made a big move toward building decarbonization in late 2021, adopting an ordinance that bans natural gas infrastructure for new buildings of fewer than seven stories beginning this year and for taller new buildings beginning in 2027 (there are exceptions, including for commercial kitchens).