City Environmental Initiatives Win Innovations Prize

Two environmental initiatives created by the New York City Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability have won the Citizens Budget Commission's 2013 Prize for Public Service Innovation. The co-winners are NYC Clean Heat and the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC).

What makes these initiatives so remarkable is that through them the Mayor's Office has taken the innovative step of developing public-private collaborations that go beyond regulation and accelerate public goals of reduced air pollution and increased energy efficiency, which are essential to the city's sustainability agenda, PlaNYC.

Too often, government -- at all levels -- is satisfied with regulation and enforcement. Yet here the Mayor's Office has created effective collaborative mechanisms to go further. In doing so the city has partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as real estate interests, the heating oil industry and utilities, and banking entities, to develop models that should be acclaimed and widely replicated.

NYC Clean Heat seeks to improve air quality and save lives by eliminating the use of heavy heating oil and accelerating conversion to the cleanest fuels. The use of such oil by fewer than 10,000 buildings in the city contributes more soot pollution than all cars and trucks on the road.

In 2011, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection issued rules to phase out the use of heavy heating oil by 2030, but the Mayor's Office wanted to go beyond regulation to improve public health more quickly. It therefore created NYC Clean Heat with a goal of reducing fine particulate matter emissions from heavy oil by 50 percent by the end of 2013, which would save 120 lives each year. Through the program 1,400 buildings have already converted to one of the cleanest heating fuels, advancing the program close to the halfway point for achieving the 50 percent goal.

NYC Clean Heat takes a novel approach: first, it uses a "sales force" of more than a dozen energy and building professionals, overseen by the Environmental Defense Fund, to provide technical assistance to building owners and property managers at no cost; second, it encourages collective action by clustering groups of buildings in order to create economies of scale; third, it partners with NYCEEC to create attractive financing options.

NYCEEC is a city-affiliated non-profit organization launched in 2011 to provide financing for building owners seeking to implement energy-efficiency measures and clean heat conversions in buildings located in New York City. Its mission is to help New York City achieve its energy and climate action goals by catalyzing energy-efficiency retrofit financing markets for private building owners.

NYCEEC is pioneering new solutions and has completed five innovative financing transactions to date, which provide capital for dozens of clean energy projects. NYCEEC is leveraging public capital by attracting private-sector resources from commercial and mortgage lenders to help solve the considerable barriers to greater availability of affordable energy efficiency and clean energy financing. Taking on the most challenging building segments and projects, NYCEEC has financed projects in affordable and market-rate multifamily, commercial and hospitality sectors.

NYCEEC receives support from Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Living Cities Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Rockefeller Foundation, Surdna Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability deserve enormous praise for undertaking these innovative initiatives and demonstrating their impact. Their collaborative partners deserve to share in that praise as well. Together they have provided important models that should be considered by government officials at all levels -- and in many areas of government service -- throughout the nation.

Carol Kellermann is President of the Citizens Budget Commission.