New York City Council Gives a Thumbs Up to Geothermal Heat Pumps

The devastation wreaked by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 has had a profound effect on New York City’s residents and elected officials. Since Sandy, the city has been aggressively working to reduce its carbon footprint.

On Dec. 7, 2015, the New York City Council passed the geothermal energy bill Int. 0609-A-2015. On Jan. 7, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the local law to amend the administrative code of the City of New York, in relation to the use of geothermal energy in the city.

Sponsored by Council Member Costa G. Constantinides, the bill requires New York City to identify and implement geothermal heat pump installations in all new construction and retrofits to city-owned buildings when it is shown that doing so would be cost-effective.

New York Geothermal Energy Organization (NY-GEO) member Bob Wyman, who testified in favor of the bill, wrote “I believe this is the first time that any major city in the U.S. has adopted legislation requiring the use of the Social Cost of Carbon in making spending decisions.” The bill establishes this cost as starting at $128/metric ton (based on the high end of the federal government’s estimates) over a 20-year period.

Wyman also suggested that “it may also be the first time that a city has committed to evaluating geothermal heat pumps for all new construction and retrofits and using them when cost-effective.”

There are three requirements in the geothermal bill:

  • Identification of the types of geothermal systems and the buildings for which they would be suitable.
  • Adoption of rules and registration requirements for those who design and install geothermal systems.
  • Completion of a feasibility study of waterfront properties suitable for the installation of geothermal systems in marine surface waters.

Part of the identification process would include comparisons of conventional heating and cooling technologies with geothermal heat pumps regarding:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions as a result of fuel and electricity consumption
  • Impacts on criteria air pollutant concentrations
  • Annual electricity consumption and impacts on peak demand reduction
  • Potential revenue stream generated from the peak demand reduction using a dollar metric, where applicable
  • Fuel and power costs
  • Net present value of all alternatives considered, based on a 20-year life expectancy and capital costs, operations and maintenance, fuel costs, available federal, state and other non-city governmental funding assistance, and the social cost of carbon

The bill also calls for an office or agency designated by the mayor to develop an online, publicly available screening tool no later than Feb. 1, 2017. The screening tool will be used to determine whether an installation of a geothermal system may be cost-effective for a property.

It also requires:

  • Setting up standards for the installation and maintenance of geothermal systems
  • Determining qualifications for persons who will design or install such systems
  • Maintaining a publicly available registry of such persons
  • Informing property owners and installers of geothermal systems regarding the potential benefits of coupling a solar PV system with a geothermal system for buildings within the city
  • Performing a technical and regulatory feasibility study on implementing a geothermal system for waterfront properties

Geothermal installations are not new in New York City, but this enthusiastic move forward is. The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, The Bronx Zoo and the Statue of Liberty are all heated and cooled with geothermal heat pumps. And Cornell University’s planned NYC Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island will have a four-acre geothermal well field as part of its goal to be the largest net-zero energy building in the U.S. East Coast.

Those with vision and a determination to deal with climate change are showing us all the way.

This article was originally published by the New York Geothermal Energy Organization and was republished with permission.

Lead image: NYC Mayor signs geothermal bill. Credit: David Dong.

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Billii Roberti is co-owner, with her husband, of Green Choices Consulting. Together they researched energy efficiency, renewable energy and healthy building materials before renovating their home to ENERGY STAR® standards and included solar PV and geothermal heat pump system.

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