What's so exciting about the Earth Day announcement by Mayor Michael Bloomberg is that he is supporting a package of legislative, regulatory, and investment programs that will make New York the first major American city to ensure that all of its big buildings become energy efficient over the next decade. The package will set up funding mechanisms, create benchmarks, require that all building retrofits meet energy optimization code requirements, train workers for the 19,000 new construction jobs which will be created, and ensure that big buildings be audited and retrofitted every decade.
I was the only non-New Yorker on the green roof in midtown where Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, labor leaders, council members, builders, and environmentalists hailed the program. But I told Bloomberg that NYC was now leading, and that the world would listen. The key factor making this so important is simple: market size. By assuring designers and manufacturers of energy-retrofit technology -- efficient windows, insulation, high performance furnaces and air conditioning systems -- that as long as their products pay for themselves within five years they will have a huge market, New York City, Bloomberg's program is going to fundamentally change the national marketplace for energy retrofits.
The New York program is a tribute to the power of intelligent public policy design -- and it puts to shame the conversations the U.S. Congress is having about the new energy economy. New York City is talking about reducing energy use in old buildings like the Empire State Building by 40%. If Congress would step up to that place nationally, it would be really transformational.