“I thought wow, great opportunity for a building to get cleaner,” said Lisa Harrison, a Sane Energy Core team member who has been trying to get her building on the Upper West Side in New York City to convert to a 100% renewable source for heating. “And I keep running up against brick walls.”
Like many New Yorkers, Lisa lives in an older building that uses a boiler that burns number 2 oil for heat. The boiler in Lisa’s co-op building is over 35 years old and residents are looking to replace it.
Lisa was excited about the potential to get her building off of fossil fuels for heating and did an exhaustive search of renewable energy solutions, but found insurmountable roadblocks with each option.
She was told that the building’s roof wasn’t large enough for solar and the only company offering biodiesel is “reorganizing” their business model and currently not offering it. She was very excited about geothermal, a system of underground loops that use the consistent temperatures of the earth to heat and cool buildings, but it was prohibitively expensive.
A contractor originally estimated that geothermal would cost $400,000 with NYSERDA offering a $30,000 incentive. $370,000 was well beyond what the building could afford but Lisa was hopefully they could raise funds through a crowdsourcing platform, a loan and maybe get more incentives from the city.
But then came all the additional consulting and permitting fees to drill through the sidewalk and under the building, which would be at least another $100,0000.
And after all that there was a chance the plan would have to be abandoned if the drilling process drifted toward Amsterdam Avenue where a major waterline is located.
So what’s the alternative? Fracked gas.
“Some of the shareholders are very enthusiastic about converting to gas because it’s cheap and everyone is doing it,” said Lisa. “Our neighbors on both sides of this building have converted to gas and some other buildings on the block. A lot of buildings in New York have converted to gas.”
National Grid, the main provider of gas for New York City, is spending $200 million dollars a year converting customers in New York City and Long Island from oil to gas and have a whole section of their website devoted to how easy and affordable it is to switch.
“I think this started with Mayor Bloomberg,” said Lisa. “Converting to gas was made very easy.”
When Michael Bloomberg was mayor of New York City he banned the use of number 6 heating oil which is the dirtiest and cheapest form of heating oil, forcing buildings to convert to number 2 oil, which is much more expensive, or to gas.
Bloomberg’s support of fracked gas is at odds with his claim to be a climate leader, and is in lock-step with the fossil fuel industry misnomer that natural gas is clean. Methane, the main competent of fracked gas, is 86 - 100 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide for the first 20 years it’s in the atmosphere.
If just 3% of methane leaks, fracked gas is worse for the climate than coal, the fossil fuel Bloomberg has donated millions of dollars to phase out and replace with gas.
And the data that’s come out on methane leakage is terrifying. Researchers for the Environmental Defense Fund found that pipes under Manhattan averaged 4.3 leaks for each mile of pipe. Alarming leakage rates have been found throughout the entire fracking process from extraction to delivery, debunking any industry claim that gas is a necessary ‘bridge fuel’ to 100% renewables.
It’s not just Bloomberg who is failing to show real climate leadership. New York Governor Cuomo banned fracking in 2014, but has continued to support a massive build out of fracked gas infrastructure across the state. New York is currently the 4th largest consumer of gas and is expanding its use of gas for power and heating. Cuomo even proposes to power the Empire State Plaza with fracked gas generated in an environmental justice community.
Some buildings, like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown Manhattan and even the State Capitol Building in Lansing, MI among many other projects around the world, have gone 100% renewable and installed geothermal, proving it’s possible. What’s lacking is the political will to create a renewable economy. Instead of investing every available dollar in renewable development New York recently bailed out nuclear plants with 7.6 billion taxpayer dollars, and gave tax dollars intended for renewable energy to support fracked gas infrastructure.
“There definitely seems to be a lack of support for really clean energy and a lack of infrastructure,” said Lisa. “Because there is a big infrastructure for gas and oil and basically none for any really clean heat in New York.”
Learn more about the Renewable Heat Now coalition campaign of which Sane Energy Project is a proud member.