The race is on to see who hits the green energy wall of impossibility first. California, Germany and the UK (the “Poseurs”) might seem to have leapt early into the lead positions. But New York is now making a strong sprint to catch and surpass them, so it can be the first to splatter its citizens’ flesh and blood all over the impenetrable barricade.
The Poseurs accumulate vast green progressive virtue credits for ridiculous promises, but their promises all have dates so far in the future that today’s politicians will be long gone when the crash detonates. Germany promises 100% of electricity from renewables by 2035. Whoopie! Chancellor Scholz will be out tending his unfertilized Spargel gardens long before then. In California they don’t promise 100% renewable electricity until 2045, by which time Governor Newsom will likely be not just retired but dead.
Who has sufficiently pure cult adherence to set firm green energy deadlines with real consequences in the here and now? That task has fallen to the true climate heroes here in New York City.
New York City’s bid to create the first real test of an impossible green energy deadline is found in its Climate Mobilization Act of 2019, the key part of which goes by the name Local Law 97. LL97 (formal name: New York City Administrative Code Sections 28-320 and 28-321) imposes energy efficiency standards on large residential buildings starting in 2024 — next year. Buildings that fail to meet the standards are subject to large and accelerating fines starting right away.
It appears that the owners of these buildings are just now figuring out that the standards that have been set cannot be met, at least not in any remotely reasonable way. What next?
The New York Times had a big front page article on Monday about the maneuvers of one large building to try to comply with the law. The headline (online version) is “A Huge City Polluter? Buildings. Here’s a Surprising Fix.”
The building that is the subject of the profile is called The Grand Tier. It is a large (280 apartments), newish (built 2005), and very high-priced building that you may even have seen, because it sits directly across Broadway from Lincoln Center at West 64th Street. To give you an idea of the market segment the building is in, the only apartment listed at the moment on the Streeteasy website is a one bedroom for $5895 per month.
Here is a picture of The Grand Tier from the Times:
The owner of the building is Glenwood Management. Here are a few things about Glenwood that do not appear in the Times’ piece. It is one of the major apartment developers in the City, known for highest-end buildings and premium rents. The long-time head of the company was Leonard Litwin, for many years the single largest donor to New York’s Democratic Party and big backer of power broker and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Litwin died in 2017 at age 102, shortly after Silver was convicted in 2015 on corruption charges, some of which involved his relationship with Litwin. (Silver then died in 2022 while still serving his prison term.). Meanwhile, the value of Litwin’s protection money payments ran out when the radical wing of the Democrats gained full control of the State Legislature in 2019. LL97 takes direct aim at major large-building residential landlords like Glenwood, who are one of the main designated villains of the climate morality play.
Anyway, the people now running Glenwood, who are no dummies, have figured out that even in a premium building like this that is rolling in money, compliance with LL97 on its own terms is not a realistic option. The building is heated with natural gas — as are nearly all similar buildings. Being the goodie goodie Democratic Party sycophants that they are, the Glenwood people initially tried the route of compliance with the new standards on their own terms by doing all the obvious things to increase energy efficiency. But it was not nearly enough. From the Times:
Ahead of the new climate law, the company had made all the easy changes to save energy and reduce emissions: it replaced incandescent light bulbs with LEDs, upgraded old fan motors and improved insulation. But it wasn’t enough: The Grand Tier was set to face roughly $100,000 per year in fines starting in 2024, rising to $400,000 per year in 2030, because of those two giant carbon-spewing boilers in the basement.
The only route left to comply with the literal terms of the law would have been to convert the whole building to electric heat, which would mean a full re-wiring from top to bottom, at enormous expense. To avoid that, the Glenwood people are trying a different gambit: Carbon Capture! From the Times again:
[T]he hot exhaust from [the building’s natural gas] boilers [is] funneled through a duct to a small, spotless room filled with pipes, rumbling compressors and metal tanks. Inside several of those tanks [are] dry absorbent materials that look like lentils and bind to carbon dioxide, allowing the machines to filter out other gases like nitrogen and oxygen. The remaining carbon dioxide [are] then chilled to minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit and turned to liquid.
One problem: carbon capture is not a permitted option under the law for complying with its emissions standards. And the City bureaucrats are not about to stick their necks out to help the likes of Glenwood — or any of the thousands of other landlords caught in the same spot. From the Times:
For now, however, carbon capture faces an enormous hurdle: It has not been approved by the city as a solution that complies with Local Law 97, since the technology didn’t exist when the law was drafted. The Department of Buildings, which enforces the law, said it is reviewing CarbonQuest’s system but has a number of questions, such as how to verify the emission reductions claimed by the Grand Tier.
And to top it off, the carbon capture system that Glenwood has come up with only sequesters about 60% of the CO2 that the building’s boilers generate. No way will that satisfy the environmental zealots behind LL97, who detest half-way measures and want fossil fuels extirpated.
A few of the other wealthiest landlords will likely try something like the Glenwood gambit. But I can’t imagine any substantial number of landlords, most of whom are not remotely in Glenwood’s market niche, actually going through with full building rewirings and installation of heat pumps that will fail on the many days per year when temperatures here are in the 20s and below. We’re about to see thousands of buildings designated as law-breakers and subjected to punishing annual fines, with no realistic way to get around them. Let’s see how long this can continue.