Mayor Eric Adams announces $4 billion initiative to electrify New York City schools

Taking Charge

Mayor Eric Adams announces $4 billion initiative to electrify New York City schools

“Leading the Charge” will promote healthy learning environments in New York City public schools. (Kidfly182/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

A new plan put forth by New York City Mayor Eric Adams will promote healthy learning environments in New York City public schools. “Leading the Charge,” a $ 4 billion initiative announced by Mayor Adams last week addresses issues, such as poor air quality in historically disenfranchised communities, and will assemble a green workforce of skilled tradespeople to upgrade heating and lighting systems in schools across the city. As part of the plan the city will require all new public schools be solely powered by electricity and will retrofit 100 existing schools to electric heat pump systems by 2030.

“New York City is ‘Leading the Charge’ in fighting climate change, giving our young people the tools for a great education and preparing them for the green jobs of the present and the future,” said Mayor Adams in a press release. “Under this bold plan, we will not only electrify 100 schools but also ensure that we never again build a school in New York City that runs on fossil fuels. In ‘Leading the Charge,’ we are making a $4 billion investment in the health, education, and prosperity of our young people.”

The initiative will specifically target schools using No. 4 heating oil, a commercial fuel known to release sulfur and nickel contaminants into the air. Use of low grade fuels, such as No. 4, have been linked to higher rates of bronchitis, asthma, and cardiovascular disease in children and the elderly. In 2015, Local Law 38 mandated that the toxic fuel be phased out of public use by 2030.

Under “Leading the Charge” the use of No. 4 heating oil will be banned in schools by 2026, a full four years before the original citywide deadline. On a similar note, the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) will require that all new public schools exclusively use electric heating to power facilities. According to the city, this program will result in a 120,000 ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions each year as well as the elimination of 20,000 pounds of toxic pollutants from the air, which roughly translates to the emissions equivalent of 26,000 cars. These measures are expected to prevent over 100 respiratory hospitalizations and will constitute a 3 percent reduction in the city’s emission of greenhouse gasses. 200 extant public schools that rely on the use of No. 4 heating oil will switch to a low-sulfur biofuel by 2026. The city anticipates that these measures will reduce harmful-airborne particulates by 99 percent, while also increasing buildings’ energy efficiency and lowering their operating and maintenance costs.

“The SCA has spearheaded the effort to reduce greenhouse emissions at our schools, becoming the first to commit to building all-electric new school buildings while working with our city partners to retrofit existing buildings,” added SCA President and Chief Executive Officer Nina Kubota.

Over the next two years, the city plans to spend $520 million to electrify 19 currently operating public schools. Fuel-burning boilers will be replaced with efficient electric heating systems instead of transitioning to natural gas—a half measure that is a commonplace utility upgrade in homes and businesses across the country. While more efficient than low grade fuel, natural gas is still a fossil fuel. In 2017, as part of Local Laws 60 and 64, New York City established an Environmental Justice Advisory Board to identify low-income neighborhoods which are vulnerable to pollution and environmental inequity. Under Mayor Adams’s plan, schools within designated Environmental Justice Areas will be electrified first. Of the total $4 million, the city has funds for the first $2 million and will allocate and source the remaining funds in coming years.

“Leading the Charge” also provides that the New York Power Authority (NYPA) upgrade LED lighting in 800 schools, which constitutes half of the Department of Education (DOE) facilities within the city. The upgrades will be made using a “direct install” method wherein the city will hire private contractors for the installation. The retrofit will cost $540 million and take four years to complete.

A hiring and training program will receive $13 million in funding, recruiting skilled trades workers including union electricians, plumbers, steamfitters, and machinists to carry out the electrification of public schools and future DOE projects.