Albany Times Union
Let’s lead the way by decarbonizing state-owned buildings
Since the passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, New York has made significant progress to achieve our ambitious climate goals. Last session, we took a crucial first step towards statewide building decarbonization by passing the first-in-the-nation Utility Thermal Energy Network & Jobs Act.
In this session, we have the chance to build on this progress and lead by example to decarbonize state-owned buildings and facilities.
Buildings continue to be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in our state. We have a real opportunity to reduce climate pollution by decarbonizing state-owned buildings, which represent a portfolio of over 400 large facilities and campuses, including SUNY and CUNY school systems, hospital campuses, state campuses, and other state government facilities greater than 20,000 square feet. By decarbonizing only 15 of the state’s highest-polluting facilities and campuses, New York can reduce on-site fossil fuel emissions from state-owned buildings by a staggering 40 percent.
Most buildings in New York, including those at state-owned facilities, use heating systems that rely on oil and gas. These systems tend to create excess thermal energy, and their use of fossil fuels creates toxic air pollution. Thermal energy networks, on the other hand, use renewable thermal energy sources for heating and cooling and do not emit any climate pollution. These networks also connect multiple buildings into a shared electricity network, which makes state campuses and facilities great candidates for these technologies.
Upgrading to thermal energy networks at state-owned facilities would eliminate all on-site climate pollution, improve public health and air quality, and promote climate justice. Installing
thermal energy projects would also create a pipeline of highly skilled, good-paying jobs for our local union workforce and would support a diverse workforce from communities disproportionately affected by climate change.
Right here in the Capital Region, the University at Albany has already made notable strides toward decarbonizing buildings on campus. Liberty Terrace, a
500-bed dorm that opened in 2013, was the first building on campus to use thermal energy networks for all of its heating and cooling. In 2021, Ualbany completed construction of its 240,000-square-foot academic and research building ETEC, which also uses geothermal wells and heat pumps for 100 percent of the building’s heating, cooling, and domestic hot water. Plumbers and steamfitters from UA Local 7 helped install these thermal energy networks, underscoring the important role that union labor can play in the cleanenergy transition.
While many individual facilities are creating their own pathways to decarbonization, government action is needed for these efforts to be replicated and scaled across all stateowned buildings.
As the chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, I understand the importance of government’s role in ensuring our infrastructure is aligned with our climate goals. To achieve decarbonization for stateowned facilities, we must include funding in the state budget to get the top 15 projects shovel-ready for thermal energy networks by 2025. And we must make long-term commitments to reduce all on-site emissions.
Full decarbonization of state-owned buildings, facilities, and campuses by 2040 will help us reach our ambitious climate goals while also creating a pipeline of good-paying jobs and healthier communities. Critically, it will also prove to other building owners that we can decarbonize our buildings using thermal energy networks in cold climates.
We have an opportunity to lead by example, fight climate change, cut air pollution and create local union jobs – all in one proposal that can show others how it can be done. It’s time for us to act.
▶ Assemblymember John T. Mcdonald III is the chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. He represents the 108th Assembly District.