Stephen Lacey: What's up, New York? I presume we have some fans of The Energy Gang in the house? It happens to be New York Climate Week; President Trump is in town. I think he's bouncing around the city checking out events on deforestation and emissions trading policies. We have some tickets for him at the box office but I think there was a conflicting event at the Russian Embassy tonight. We'll see if he comes.
I know you're thinking, no, no, he's really into permafrost melting, he's not -- it's not what you think. All right, well, for those of you in the studio, welcome. This is The Energy Gang from Greentech Media. Our weekly digest on energy, cleantech and the environment. I'm Stephen Lacey, your emcee and the editor-in-chief at Greentech Media.
For those of you back home, we're here in New York Public Radio's Greene Space in Lower Manhattan and we've got a sold-out crowd here in front of us. We're really appreciative of all you coming here. In case they didn't hear you the first time, let's send a little love back to the folks watching at watch parties, listening to this through their headphones, and maybe even to Donald Trump since he's in town.
We've got a packed show for you. We've got a bunch of different segments. It's going to be a great time. Before I introduce my guests, a very quick word. Of course, we heard a little bit about the background of this series and we just want to extend a thanks to Urban Future Lab, ACRE, Solar One, NYSERDA, as part of this Clean Energy Connection series. We have so much fun recording at this venue. Also, a big thanks to the engineers here who make this sound really fantastic. What a superb space this is. Thanks to all of you for being here and taking the time to listen to our show and spending your evening with us. We're just so appreciative of that.
Let me bring in the rest of the gang. Katherine Hamilton is a partner with 38 North Solutions. She is our congressional encyclopedia, our grid modernization maven, and our occasional diplomat who prevents me and Jigar from, perhaps, devolving into name-calling. Hey, Katherine.
Katherine Hamilton: The biggest job for which I am not paid.
Stephen Lacey: Jigar Shah is the president of Generate Capital. He's our financial wizard, our business model innovation evangelist and often plays the role of hard-ass in our regular good cop/bad cop routine. How's it going?
Jigar Shah: Doing well, straight man.
Stephen Lacey: Well, let's introduce our special guest, Mark Chambers, who is the Director of the New York Office of Sustainability here in New York City. He's an urbanist and an architect who previously served in D.C. as the Director of Energy and Sustainability. Mark, welcome. We're thrilled to have you here. I've got to ask you. I should know this. What is an urbanist?
Mark Chambers: Fair question. I'm thrilled to be here, also, thank you all for having me. I think an urbanist is someone who loves cities and understands that we are at our best when we are in dense environments where we can't escape one another and that where we learn from each other and are able to practice a certain amount of empathy with how we exist. I think we're better for it.
Stephen Lacey: Great. We'll see how much empathy we can draw out in this debate and discussion tonight.
Mark Chambers: Good.
Stephen Lacey: Your sock game is very strong.
Mark Chambers: Sock game is always strong. I consistently have a strong sock game.
Stephen Lacey: Jigar, what about you? What do you got for us?
Jigar Shah: I'm all right, I'm all right.
Stephen Lacey: Lots of stripes, we're going with stripes?
Jigar Shah: That's right, purple.
Stephen Lacey: I've got Jackie O socks on.
Jigar Shah: Nice, nice.
Stephen Lacey: We have a game at Greentech Media. People on Twitter started pointing out who had the best socks, so now, internally in the office when we get up and do panel discussions, we're all battling for the best socks.
Katherine Hamilton: I'm a flip-flops kind of person. Sorry.
Stephen Lacey: We're going to learn much more about Mark than his socks tonight. That brings me to the run of show. First, we're going to test the gang's knowledge of New York's energy scene with a little segment we're calling Climate Week, The Game. Then we're going to get to know Mark Chambers more deeply and figure out what the Director of the New York Sustainability Office actually does, some of the issues that he's dealing with.
Then we'll go deep. We'll have a discussion and debate about the importance of local climate and energy policy in the Trump era. We'll pass the mic around to all of you to take some Q&A during that bigger discussion. We'll probably have time for three, four, five questions so please keep your questions short. But we'd really like to get some interactivity and we'll put some mics up when that conversation starts.
Finally, we'll have a quick news circuit. We're going to tell you which headlines are worth paying attention to. And, of course, as every week, a bunch happened this week and we're going to talk about it. And, of course, at the end of the show, we're going to tell you something you may not know.
Let's get started and find out who up here has the most trivial knowledge of New York's energy and climate scene. We're going to use each of these questions as a jumping off point to talk about the top issues of the day.
In this first question, I am going to give you a quote from a New York energy luminary, and you're going to have to guess who said it. Here's the quote, "When I talk about building out a network, building out the grid of the future, it's hard for me to see how it can be centrally planned. When you think about other networks that have been created around us, where technology has changed dramatically, it's been done because the providers have been able to be responsive to markets." Who said that? Mark Chambers, you're up.
Mark Chambers: Yeah, this is going to be short lived. I do not know. I promised myself that any question I did not know I would answer Lindsey Hirsch, so I'm going to go with that.
Stephen Lacey: Fair enough. Anybody in the electricity space come to mind? People thinking big about the future of the electricity system?
Mark Chambers: It's a tough call. I think that --
Jigar Shah: Audrey.
Mark Chambers: I'll go with that.
Stephen Lacey: All right, Jigar jumped in and your answer's Audrey? You think it's Audrey?
Jigar Shah: I think so. I think she's very eloquent.
Stephen Lacey: OK. Katherine, what do you think?
Katherine Hamilton: My guess was Audrey.
Stephen Lacey: You're all wrong.
Katherine Hamilton: Richard Kauffman?
Jigar Shah: Was it Kauffman?
Stephen Lacey: Richard Kauffman.
Katherine Hamilton: He was my number two choice.
Jigar Shah: I think Audrey wrote it for him.
Katherine Hamilton: Sorry.
Stephen Lacey: This was Richard Kauffman recently talking to one of our reporters about how to develop energy storage in the state. New York is going through this really interesting conversation about mandates versus market reforms and how much do you want to develop top-down mandates.
In storage, of course, there is this mandate passed back in June through the legislature and there is still a question of whether it is going to get passed by the governor's office. I just want to use this as a point of discussion about what New York is trying to do here, Jigar, and maybe I'll pass it over to you first because I think you have pretty strong views on using more creative market constructs versus top-down mandates. Do you have any thoughts about maybe the best way that New York can start thinking about storage? Should they go ahead with the storage mandate or is this the appropriate way of thinking about what to do with energy storage when other states are doing these top-down mandates?
Jigar Shah: Well, I'm certainly a big fan. Look, I think that New York City has a unique problem, which is that they have the most talented fire department in the world, and that fire department has not approved lithium-ion batteries for deployment in this city.
I think there's a pilot that DECAS has established three years in the making, for a one-year pilot, which I think is using vanadium redox batteries again, I don't think it's been approved by FDNY, and I think Vision actually has another battery.
One of my challenges is that I'm happy to go global with this stuff, but, ultimately, the local stuff actually matters because we do have to get some of these basic things passed. But I definitely think that right now, there are engineers in the City of New York who are designing microgrids using cogeneration, small amounts of renewable energy like solar, and batteries. They're deploying those solutions throughout New York State at less than 10 cents a kilowatt hour delivered, which is cheaper than Con Ed and it's certainly cheaper than a lot of the electricity sold in this country.
I do think that it's possible for all of these thousand points of light to disrupt the utility industry. I just don't know how you do it without the batteries getting approved by FDNY.
Stephen Lacey: And on top of that, New York City, the city itself, passed, I think, the first municipal storage target, right? A 100-megawatt hours of storage.
Jigar Shah: Yep.
Stephen Lacey: This is moving forward regardless.
Katherine Hamilton: I don't think we have to choose. I think we can do both. You can have a competitive platform, but to really create an industry here for energy storage, I think you need the mandate. I think you do it, it's not there forever, they'll far exceed it and that'll jumpstart the industry here, create certainty, bring a lot of business here. I think we need to do both.
Stephen Lacey: Yeah. Mark, does that storage integration come under your purview?
Mark Chambers: To a certain extent, yes. I think that, to follow-up on what everyone has said, I do agree that there's no future without storage. It has to be something in which we are figuring out a way to integrate that and use power when we need to use it. I think that working with FDNY to be able to do that safely is something that we're completely committed to. It is not easy. I think that the notion that we can push through technology quickly is a misnomer when it comes to protecting those safety and well-being of all the city.
That being said, certain things can move faster and I think that, to the credit of the mayor, he's putting people in positions that have a little bit of experience in being able to connect with both the private sector and what their needs are as well as understanding how the public sector really works and what is necessary to turn a large ship.
I think that the road for batteries is imminent. I think we're definitely not far out from seeing a cascade of being able to, particularly with lithium-ion, being able to see how that could be done safely in the city. New York is a different city than anywhere else, though, so there is a certain amount of reasonable apprehension around the density concerns that, I think, FDNY has, but we're working with them and we're working with everyone. I think we're going to get there.
Jigar Shah: Yeah. It's the challenge of being an urbanist.
Mark Chambers: Indeed. You love it and sometimes you just have to let it go and then bring it back in.
Stephen Lacey: OK. Let's move on to the second one. When New York City first released its energy benchmarking data in 2012, we saw some very interesting results. Which one of these buildings, according to that initial release, was the most energy efficient? Was it the Chrysler Building, which was built in the 1930s; the LEED-certified Seven World Trade Center; or Trump Tower? Katherine, what do you think? Do you want me to go through them again?
Katherine Hamilton: I'm guessing the World Trade Center.
Stephen Lacey: Jigar.
Jigar Shah: I thought it was the Empire State Building. How did we miss one of these things here? Or what about the Bank of America Building?
Katherine Hamilton: Or One Times Square? Isn't there one for Times Square?
Stephen Lacey: I didn't put it on the list for a reason.
Jigar Shah: I don't like it, I don't like it. Well, I'll just pick the Chrysler Building just to make sure that it's covered.
Mark Chambers: I'm going Chrysler, also.
Stephen Lacey: Yes. I turns out that having few windows, very thick walls, very little ventilation makes you very energy efficient. The Chrysler Building won and it beat out the Empire State Building.
Jigar Shah: Asylum-like.
Stephen Lacey: Those were 2012 numbers, I haven't seen the updated figures and that could have changed. Many of the older buildings in New York City were the most energy efficient and a bunch of LEED-certified buildings happen to not be. I brought that up because that's a tricky thing to be thinking about when you're looking at this wide scope of buildings that you now have a mandate for to encourage energy efficiency retro fits. You have to think about how the varying stock of buildings actually performs. It's not as straightforward as it seems.
Mark Chambers: No, it's not, especially when you love buildings and you want them to be beautiful and to actually provide the services that they encapsulate. I'm an architect and so I definitely really respect three-dimensional decision making and how that goes into actually creating a space that makes you want to be there. I don't think those things are mutually exclusive.
We can have beautiful buildings that perform incredibly well. Part of that is turning things off when you're not using them. The other part is actually investing in the long-term strategy of building materials and knowledgeable building operators to be able to really extract all those benefits out of the investments you've made.
Jigar Shah: Yeah, I saw that episode of How I Met Your Mother, really protect that building. But I do think that this is why the mayor's announcement was so good.
Stephen Lacey: Step back. Tell us what the mayor's announcement was.
Jigar Shah: The mayor's announcement, well, I might get this wrong, but it was to-
Mark Chambers: I'd love to hear your interpretation.
Jigar Shah: Was to --
Stephen Lacey: That's what we do here, we interpret facts.
Jigar Shah: There's a lot of buildings that still use number two and number six heating oil to heat the buildings. The EDF played a big role in trying to get a lot of those buildings transformed but it just hasn't happened. I think the mayor finally said there needed to be a mandate to really help these folks save themselves from the burden of the expense of that fuel. It's actually cheaper to use other fuels. On top of that, the actual health impacts of that fuel.
I think that mandate is important because, I think, in general, we constantly just say, "We need to do this energy efficiency stuff." But I think pinpointing a specific technology and really isolating it and saying, "This is really a problem in our city and we really need to get rid of it," is more effective. I think the mayor showed real leadership in doing that.
Mark Chambers: I'm OK with that interpretation. That was good.
Stephen Lacey: Any other specifics of the policy that you want to mention because this is a pretty big deal. It's the first of its kind in the country, right?
Mark Chambers: Absolutely. I think that variations probably say that one of the first in the world in terms of how we're targeting this. The essence of it is saying that we are identifying, just as Jigar said, that buildings represent the lion's share of greenhouse gas emissions in our city. Sixty-seven percent of the emissions come from buildings and, in particular, these large buildings, buildings over 25,000 square feet do have an impact that we can have an effect on, and it's not that every building is bad.
We basically took a look at the full swath of buildings. A lot of that comes from benchmarking data, and we said, "OK, basically the median performance of some of these buildings we can isolate and let's figure out a way to get the bottom half of performing buildings to perform the same as the top half." That's a reasonable and it's an aggressive achievement for what we can expect, and can also meet the industry where it is.
In order to do that, we targeted fossil fuels that are having the largest contribution to those emissions. That resulted in about 14,500 or so buildings. That really comprised about a quarter of the emissions. The mandate is really going to set fossil fuel use energy intensity targets for those buildings. It's going to say that here's the cap of what we can expect per square foot per year and in 2030 we're going to start enforcing that. You have some time to be able to, whether it's retrofitting, whether it is adjusting operational considerations, there's time to get there. We'll dedicate resources towards making sure you have the technical expertise connecting you to financing, connecting you to --
Stephen Lacey: PACE, right?
Mark Chambers: PACE financing, we're introducing that, as well, with the council to be able to have low interest loans that you pay back through your property taxes, which is something that allows for banks to underwrite in a way that they wouldn't before.
I think providing the environment that makes it attractive to take out these loans and make these retrofits and also being aggressive, because we don't have a lot of time, so we actually can't wait any longer for the voluntary action that we were hoping for. We have to say, "We need to act, we hope that you go far beyond these caps, but we really need to see measurable reduction in the impact of our buildings."
Katherine Hamilton: And you think you'll create 17,000 green jobs in the process.
Mark Chambers: Absolutely.
Stephen Lacey: This feels particularly important, not just because of the economic impact and because it's the first of its kind, but 2011, 2012 it was such a difficult process just to create these energy benchmarking laws, and now you're seeing the policies develop on top of those data requirements and we're starting to see the fruits of that labor bear out.
Mark Chambers: Absolutely. You mentioned before that I used to work for D.C. government. One of the benchmark, now it's platitude, maybe it's just the quote that I had there was, "More data, less carbon, zero excuses." I think part of that means when you start this cascade of information coming out of buildings, whether it's from benchmarking or other data, you create more options for more aggressive policies down the road.
Stephen Lacey: Under our third and final question, this is for all you acronym freaks out there who love to abbreviate everything, we know who you are, REV, of course, is the most acronym heavy regulatory process in history. I want to see if you all can identify the real REV acronym from this list. I'm going to give you three, so here we are.
There's this new one called SWAGGER, a utility vendor data sharing protocol; there's VDER, the new tariff for value and distributed resources; and, of course, this great calculation of grid value, B+SS+IC+AC+P+O+SSB equals the value of B.
Katherine Hamilton: Wait, you're asking which one is right or which one is wrong?
Stephen Lacey: Which one is real?
Jigar Shah: Well, that's obvious.
Katherine Hamilton: VDER.
Jigar Shah: Darth Vader.
Katherine Hamilton: VDER, VDER.
Stephen Lacey: Yeah, I heard the folks at Advanced Energy Economy call it VDER and I've since called it VDER; I don't know if anyone calls it anything different.
Jigar Shah: Well, now, everyone thinks it's VDER after the crappy rule that came out last week.
Stephen Lacey: Yeah, well tell us about that, that's why I brought it up. What's going on with this new value tariff?
Jigar Shah: Well, I don't know how to even approach it. I think that when you read the rule, it is the value of distributor energy resources. And for a little context, the first version of community solar was allowed to basically get full retail reimbursement for building that solar plant. You sold it to a retail customer, you got that revenue.
For subsequent rounds, you actually have to limit yourself to the value of DER for your reimbursement rate in the future. If you spend all this money and all this time developing community solar projects and then you get a crappy value of DER reimbursement rate, then all of that development capital goes down the tubes and you lose out on billions of dollars of economic development and jobs and whatnot that are in these rural economies.
I think that, like a lot of things in the REV process here, the utility fingerprints were all over this one. It just irks me to no end that New York has this weird thing where the governor gets so many kudos for all the work that they've done in solar that we just can't hold the governor accountable to the stupid stuff that comes out. Then we end up with this weird place where everyone thinks that New York is doing all this great stuff and we've got less than 25 megawatts of community solar projects actually getting built in the state. It's embarrassing.
Stephen Lacey: I've been using this phrase a lot lately. I think REV is an example of it being a Rorschach test in that you can see it as a slow-moving process that's going to take a while to materialize and see it in a positive light. Or you can use it as an example of why utilities really are not capable of being innovative and getting outside their very specific sets of interests for this greater good of market reform as you seem to allude to, Jigar.
Katherine, any thoughts on the different interpretations of how REV is going in light of this pretty controversial evolution of this particular rate. I mean, how do you see people framing the way REV has gone forward so far?
Katherine Hamilton: I think there is a combination of people thinking it's going too fast and people thinking it's going too slow, depends on where you are in the ecosystem.
Jigar Shah: And that breakdown is where, in general?
Katherine Hamilton: Utilities versus third parties who are actually trying-
Jigar Shah: The employees or the utilities think it's going too fast.
Katherine Hamilton: Who are coming to the platform. Where is the platform?
Jigar Shah: Pretty much everyone else thinks it's going too fast.
Katherine Hamilton: Where's my platform, I want to plug in.
Jigar Shah: You actually wrote great testimony with Wellinghoff and others about how this might be done better and the commission ignored your input.
Katherine Hamilton: They were not there yet. I also think about it in the context of what the ISO is doing on the DER roadmap. How does this intersect? How is it then going to play into the wholesale market? How do we think about it? It's complicated, we know that it's complicated. I feel like we could learn a little bit from Cal ISO and what's going on in California and what they're able to monetize to look at what New York can do, but I think, generally though, people see New York as a leader. It's just that the devil is in the details.
Jigar Shah: Well, I hate to say this but, Scott Weiner should know better. We've been working with him for years in New Jersey and now he's over at the public service commission and this is not good.
Stephen Lacey: Well, we've heard how you feel about New Jersey in past events here.
Jigar Shah: It's true.
Katherine Hamilton: Stop it.
Jigar Shah: It's true. Although I have to say the new deal that they struck the other day, saving the New Jersey Solar Program is pretty damn good. New Jersey has life in it yet.
Stephen Lacey: I'm feeling a little loosened up here so I want to spend some time-
Katherine Hamilton: Yeah, he's loose.
Stephen Lacey: Getting to know Mark Chambers here. We're going to figure out how his experience influences New York policy and then we're going to talk about where it fits into this broader national picture, which will be the theme of our much larger debate where you'll get to ask some questions.
I want to get down to the basics. What does the Director of the Mayor's Office of Sustainability job actually encompass? It's a big job.
Mark Chambers: It is a big job. I would say it's a fast-paced job that I am really excited and it's a pleasure to be able to do it. The best way to think about it is there are probably three prongs of what I'm responsible for. Looks like a Triceratops of activity that I'm responsible for. My son is big into the dinosaurs, it's totally awesome. I think first, I alluded to earlier, is that there's a policy perspective; there's also an amount of implementation that is required; and then advocacy. I would say on the policy side, I'm responsible for crafting and guiding the city on its path to carbon mitigation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. That's the charge, that is-
Stephen Lacey: That's like the Velociraptor utility, slash carbon emissions --
Mark Chambers: With that small, quarter-size limbs. I have that responsibility to not plays itself out through waste, it plays itself out through transportation, through buildings we talked about before, through energy. All of those components have a hundred subcomponents that we work towards, but it's a policy perspective and it's really guiding and painting a vision for where the city needs to go and how do we, as a city together, craft a route toward carbon neutrality on that 30-plus year time horizon.
The second part, in terms of implementation, goes to the conversation we had before about FDNY and everyone else. There are 70 agencies that you all interact with every single day. I'm sure on the way from the subway here, 13 city agencies you somehow interacted with. There are hundreds of thousands of people that work for the city that provide services and safety and resources. My role is to fully integrate the work of sustainability into their work and, as a result, to connect with you and meet you where you are.
It means that, I need to get deep into battery storage, it means I need to get deep into electric vehicles, it means I need to figure out also what obstacles are preventing people from being able to add this work into their mission vision. But bottom line, I have to figure out a way to make sure we are bending everyone's skill sets and passions towards incorporating climate work because that's the only way this works is if everyone is somehow working on it. Not just from the city perspective but all of you, as well.
The third part I would say is about advocacy, which is more about the fact that New York City is New York City. We have an obligation not just to the eight and a half million residents here, but also to think about what can we do to de-risk the work we are doing for other municipalities, for other cities and states both nationally and globally.
We push to have this building mandate. It's not just so that we can reduce emissions by 7 percent between now and 2030, it's so that New York can say to all of its other brother and sister cities. Here we did this. What do you need help with. If this works for you copy, paste and let's keep moving because we know that the impacts of climate change do not respect boundaries or borders or city and state lines.
We have to actually figure out a way to speed up the process by which other people can do that. A lot of that means we can take risks that other cities can't or are not willing to do because of their political leadership right now. Let's make it easier for them because everyone has to figure this out sooner as opposed to later. That's the bucket of things.
Jigar Shah: In my own experience I have to say there are few places that can really invest in the best and the brightest policy people within the movement. New York is one of them. Mark is a representation of that. I think, California is another place where they can really afford to have the smart people to implement AB 32. We're all in their debt because, frankly, this stuff's not easy as Katherine can attest to. Getting the policy right requires really smart people.
Stephen Lacey: Just remind me the timeline. When did you move from D.C. to New York?
Mark Chambers: I moved at the end of last summer. Actually, it's coming up on a year. When I actually got the full on offer to say, "Hey, we want you to join," and the mayor decided to bring me on, I was at Comic-Con and I was here dressed as an impromptu Luke Cage. I got the call and I was like, this is great because we committed to my family. I have a son and a daughter, and my wife and I decided we wanted to move here and we're going to give all that we can to New York City. It was great and I think it was appropriate that I was in full cosplay at the time when I got the message because I think this is the time when it is require a certain amount of superheroes to be able to dive fully into this.
Stephen Lacey: Was that part of the interview process, "So is the cosplay scene here pretty good? Are you ..."
Mark Chambers: It definitely came up. It's important whether or not you're fully into all that New York has to offer.
Stephen Lacey: You got the job here, you moved to New York and November rolls around. We have a president who is basically verbally committed to rolling back everything that we've tried to accomplish over the last eight years. What were you thinking? What kind of internal conversations were you having within your team and how did that change your mission, if at all?
Mark Chambers: My transition up here, it was right in the middle time. I was just leaving D.C., coming up here right around the time of the election. It was fresh for me but to be honest, I didn't have an outlet yet for that. I'd built a team in D.C. that was doing a lot of great work and then now getting ready to start with a new team here that also has an incredible volume of work. In the middle of this we have this craziness that's happening in Washington.
As it started to unfold, you started to realize, "Oh, this actually can get worse." And then a little bit later, it's like, "Oh, this is going to get more and more worse." For me it was all about how do we not focus on which civil liberty am I losing today and focus a little bit more on how do we build the structure of the team to be able to fight aggressively.
What I've spent time doing over the last nine months, really, is to reorg and restructure our team and to focus ourselves on how can we take the most aggressive big posture to be able to not only pushback in the absence and abdication of Federal leadership, but also create a lane for ourselves where we can say, "OK, we might have toyed around this idea before, we know that we've done the analytics that support that we have to go big in order to really start to bend this curve and start to ...," The whole game here is no longer just about crafting a course to 80 percent by 2050, the game here is frontloading the work so that we can really bend that curve and have less emissions happen in total.
It's a volume game not a destination now. We need to have the structure in place to do that and we need the team to do that, so that's what we've been focusing on; building the team, building structure, getting this mandate out the door so that we can have an aggressive policy stance to be able to build from.
Now that this is out and now that we are setting the stage for everything that comes after this, it's only hard choices now. It's no longer a game of maybe we want to do this, maybe we want to do that. No. Everything is hard and everything has to be done now. There's a certain urgency. If I had an office but I don't because I do believe in open plans and there's part of the architect in me that thinks that-
Stephen Lacey: There's a bench at the park that you can meet Mark at.
Mark Chambers: If I had one I would kick the door down every morning just to make sure that we are all recognizing that we have this window in time to really be as forceful with our strategy as possible because everyone, yourself included, are counting on us to set that vision.
Jigar Shah: I just want to pushback a little bit. You and I have had this conversation before but Mayor Nickels had a pledge that he had everyone sign, I think it was almost a thousand mayors that ended up signing it, around 2008 maybe, and they didn't even benchmark their emissions, most of the cities. They didn't do anything. I wonder sometimes whether this Federal leadership thing in some ways ... Bush got us out of Kyoto that was one of his first moves, Trump getting us out of Paris, in some ways it maybe kicked a lot of these mayors in the ass and got them to actually do something, because they certainly weren't doing anything on Mayor Nickels' pledge.
Mark Chambers: I think it's fair. I think that a lot of this movement that we've seen around cities has galvanized a lot of less progressive mayors and less progressive municipalities to do more. Some of them don't know what more looks like and I think there's a part of this where we have to actually lead and show what that is but also another part of it is making sure that it's not just a desire to do it, it's actually having the political structure to be able to do it.
If the principal of a city, the executive, wants to actually get this and extract this data out of buildings, that has to happen in partnership with their council who are all a reflection of what the population wants and demands. I think that part of the issue is having, again, rhetoric around what we're asking for, but part of it is making sure that everyone is truly demanding that and making themselves as vocal as possible.
What we're going to see, I think, as a benefit and outcome of all of these climate pledges and mayors doubling down on this, is that you're going to have a more engaged population that are not just demanding something of their representatives but demanding more of all of the gatekeepers for the information. As much information as I am able to access, it belongs to the city, so we try to be as transparent as possible.
There's always a conversation about getting more data from utilities. That's a conversation that also needs to happen, and I think that we need to make sure that everyone that's as engaged is knocking on every door possible to make sure that we're liberating that data.
Katherine Hamilton: Mark, how do you bring everybody along? You have some pretty cool projects, blockchain in Brooklyn, these microgrids and things but how do you also reach other parts of the city or other parts of the community that might not naturally be as engaged or may really need more social justice aspects for what you're doing?
Mark Chambers: Absolutely. I don't think that, again, they're not mutually exclusive by any stretch of the imagination, that's really the cornerstone of this administration. This is why I really wanted to come and work for Mayor de Blasio is that he has restructured our metrics for success to give a priority and a mandate around inclusion and equity.
We're trying to create not just a resilient and sustainable city but a just city. One of the metrics not just for my office but also for every of those 70 agencies and everyone that works for the city is that you have to make sure that equitable distribution of your work is a priority. And it's also not just equitable distribution, but a prioritization to communities that have been structurally and historically underinvested in.
I think that we have an opportunity now, especially around the narrative that exists with resiliency and response and adaptation to recognize that it, for the most part, like a lot of other societal problems, the most vulnerable populations are the ones that are on the frontlines of having to respond to that. We see that not just in New York but also in a lot of the other cities that are now dealing with aggressive weather. We have a responsibility to protect the city, all parts of it.
Stephen Lacey: Great. We're going to move onto contextualize that in a national framework but first I just have a few more questions here to get deeper into all of your souls. If you've ever read French literature, maybe you've heard of Marcel Proust or maybe you just flipped to the back of a "Vanity Fair" magazine and read the Proust questionnaire. They are very simple questions that, I think, get us to help understand a person, prominent figure, and what they're thinking, what their frame of mind is. I want to walk through each of these and just go very quickly into a few questions for Mark, Jigar and Katherine. Mark, to you. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Mark Chambers: Every year for the last couple years, my brother, Earl and I, we hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. We take about four days or so and the two of us go out, we typically hike about 60 miles. It's a lot of work. What's great about it, in addition to it just being an amazing time and the rhythm of moving through this strange space that happens along the trail, is that we get dropped off typically by my parents. There's this how much unsolicited advice can you cram into a car ride, then we get dropped off.
We go on this trek and we have a great time and then on the end of it, it's typically my wife, Nitya, my sister-in-law, Marian, and all the kids, I have two kids and my brother has two. They're usually there to pick us up and we're all dirty and smell like we've been walking through the woods for four days. That collective experience is full on happiness.
Stephen Lacey: All right, I like that. Jigar, what's your greatest fear?
Jigar Shah: I'm going to get found out. Look, I don't have as many fears as most folks. I have to say the reason for that is because I was born in a small town without running water or electricity in India and came over here when I was a couple years old. I think that the thing that I get most afraid of, actually, is that I really do think that this social justice stuff is real. I think that for a lot of us, we actually are so disconnected from it that we don't actually even understand why they feel the way they feel. I was talking to the guys at Singularity University, you know those guys on the West Coast who think everything's coming to one AI thing or whatever and-
Stephen Lacey: Is that Ray Kurzweil's group or --
Jigar Shah: Yeah, that and Peter Thiel and all those crazy guys.
Mark Chambers: If you're hearing this, you are the resistance.
Jigar Shah: And they all think that they're going to live to 150 years old by taking nutraceuticals and whatever. My big thing with them is it's like, do you not understand history. Do you not understand that at some point your selfishness will get you to the point where someone's just going to take a direct flight, find Bangalore to SFO, pitch you an idea and shoot you. That's how this goes. That's how social justice happens --
Stephen Lacey: Wait, what?
Jigar Shah: But I mean like, at some point-
Stephen Lacey: I need to rewind that one.
Jigar Shah: At some point when you say that I want to use 5,000 times the average human being's energy to be able to live to 150 years old because I'm that frickin' important or everything else, I think that's where we are. I'm really afraid of the fact that everyone looks at social justice as this thing that you have to deal with, like giving to the United Way and it's not.
There are people who are so desperate and been left behind by all of us, that at some point it just manifests in our selfishness. And I'm most afraid of that because I'm a deep reader of history and this happens over and over again. We never learn. The next society comes forward and we're like, "Oh, this is not going to happen to us because we're so awesome," and it does happen. So I'm very afraid of that social upheaval.
Stephen Lacey: Well, I've always thought that you've been wearing a bubble vest, but now I know that it's a bulletproof vest-
Jigar Shah: Kevlar. I'm wearing Kevlar.
Stephen Lacey: So when people hit you.
Jigar Shah: That's right, that's right.
Stephen Lacey: Katherine, what's the quality you like most in humanity?
Katherine Hamilton: Empathy, and I will have another one, which is lack of prejudice.
Stephen Lacey: Good answer.
Katherine Hamilton: Well, everybody's different and everybody's special and everybody's got something. People don't always recognize that in everybody else.
Stephen Lacey: Mark, you get the last question. What's your current state of mind?
Mark Chambers: I am hopeful. I think that we are not going to miss this opportunity to galvanize. I guess it's simultaneously my worst fear that we won't also do that but I am hopeful that we will. I think that we're in a place now of how connected we could be that if we are able to utilize the resources we have, we can actually meet this particular challenge, so, I'm hopeful.
Stephen Lacey: Well, I guess now's the time that we can figure out if we shatter that hope or raise it up. Let's talk a little bit about the national framework now. We're going to set this conversation up, we're going to debate a little bit about these issues. We've got some mics up here. In about 10 minutes or so, 15 minutes or so, we're going to have people who can come to the mics, ask us anything you want.
We're probably going to get to about three or four questions so I apologize in advance if we don't get to that many of them. We would love to hear what's on your mind. At many events we haven't taken questions and I know a lot of people do want to throw things out there. Just a reminder to please keep them short.
We've been in a New York state of mind so far this show but it's time to stretch beyond the empire state and go deep into the empire itself, which is striking back against climate. Yes, of course, I'm referring to the Trump administration and its mission to destroy climate policy and hunt out any rebels pushing the cause. But the Trump administration isn't as powerful as it thinks. So far 125 cities, nine states, 902 corporations and 183 colleges and universities have stood up and pledged to meet the Paris climate targets, many of them going beyond.
This makes cities like New York City, of course, some of the most powerful forces in climate policy today, but how powerful? Is there an extent? How far can they go, really? That's what we're going to mull over right now. We're going to talk about America's state of play in energy and politics, look at both the local and national level, and then, of course, we want to hear from you.
I think it's helpful to start with the We Are Still In movement, which you referred to, and is the basis for America's de facto climate policy today. Katherine, do you want to give us an accounting of where the We Are Still In movement is?
Katherine Hamilton: They have 2,300 organizations that represent 127 million Americans and 6.2 trillion dollars of the economy. They have it in different groupings. Cities and counties, there are 200, states and tribes.
I would say for cities and counties they really are dispersed across the country and in all those 2300 organizations, all 50 states are represented in some way. The states and tribes really are located more on the coast, the ones that have committed to this.
If you look, they have maps on the wearestillin.org website so you can see where all these different commitments have been. Colleges and universities all across the country, middle of the country, coasts, everywhere. And then businesses and investors, also, everywhere, 1,700 businesses.
There are a lot of people that have signed on and I think another thing to look at is this global covenant of mayors, which is ... You can access it through the wearestillin.org where there are 125 U.S. governors who've really not just registered their commitment, but who've decided to take inventory like New York is, creating targets and metrics and then really establishing action plans and that's what we need to see. It's great for people to sign onto a pledge, but it's another thing to really have them commit to something that is measurable and execute on it.
Stephen Lacey: This was a major topic of conversation in a previous podcast. We spoke with one of your previous colleagues, Sam Brooks, who was in D.C. government and he expressed a lot of frustrations about the lack of tracking of pledges. New York, under your leadership and other leadership, has clearly stepped up and said, "OK. We need better ways of track our carbon emissions. We need policies to be able to tell people to give them the financial incentives to make those retrofits and to say, 'This is the target. You've got to do something about it.'" And that seems to be very different.
Are there different conditions in place that make you feel like these pledges are more than just press releases? Because that's the big fear, to me. That we are still in campaign, sounds great, we can all say, "Look, local climate policy is stepping up, Trump administration be damned," but in reality the mechanics are not in place to be able to track and execute on these pledges. Give us your thoughts on how you see that playing out.
Mark Chambers: I think it's a great question and I think it's a challenge that is not ... The same challenge does not exist for every city or every government or every organization that is still in. I think for New York City, we've set the stage for this for quite some time. We have a greenhouse gas inventory that is fairly robust and --
Stephen Lacey: Right. None of this happened overnight.
Mark Chambers: And we have a 2005 baseline and we have been tracking as to what is really happening and how we're moving towards our goal. That being said, there are two things at play. There's the one thing at play about galvanizing a movement. We're having this conversation because 375 mayors signed on. We're having this conversation because Mayor de Blasio, the day after Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, he signed an executive order committing New York City for the principles.
These conversations in the context can be created in a way that is galvanizing and is activating for places that normally would not have done anything or not have made those commitments. When those become executive orders, they may become legislation, they start to bind those places into action. It's not just mindless cheering. I think it is something in which everyone is pushing themselves and backing themselves into a place where they have to respond.
That being said, you have to have rigor in analysis, so you have to know where to start and you have to know how you're actually going to be tracking your progress and pushing that information. Last week when the mayor rolled out the plan for the mandate, one of the things he said in the press conference was, "You know, we should create a portal to make sure people know there's 14,500 buildings that we are targeting. People should know how they're doing. As they're going through retrofits, maybe they're coming off the list."
That's the kind of thing where there's the ability to have this real time interaction as we are progressing and helping building owners make these changes. That I think is helpful and I think that expands to cities when they're able to capture data and they're able to have the same metrics across the board, that's where you start to get the economy of scale.
We work with several other cities. We're one of eight pilot cities working with C40 now to develop strategies to align our goals to a 1.5 degree contribution to global warming versus 2 degrees and as part of the Paris alignment. That means that we have to have some kind of independent audit for what exactly we're doing.
There's structure that's being formed by the fact that we now are making this commitment as a collective. I think you start with a little bit of the cheering and you start with the galvanizing but it's quickly forming into actual strategy. For New York City, we back up everything we do. We are committed to not just putting out plans but to actually showcasing that we can implement on those plans.
Stephen Lacey: Jigar, do you feel any differently about the post-Trump environment given the efforts that Mark outlined? You do have cities that are saying we're committed to tracking this stuff? That seemed to be a big worry when we looked at the rise of local climate policy. Anything you want to say about that?
Jigar Shah: Well, I certainly feel encouraged that there are people like Mark and others who are being empowered by their bosses to have this level of responsibility and effort. I still think that having a long conversation with one of our good friends when we were at that conference in Vermont, and I've been working on solar for the better part of 22 years, and I feel like there's a lot of jujitsu that we went through to get to where we are today. We feel like we're actually on a pathway to ending coal. We're not there yet, but we're on a pathway of ending coal. They're not cost effective, it's a fool's errand to build a new one, but there's all this stuff.
But the thing that frustrates me the most is that's not true for food. For all of the BS around Amazon buying Whole Foods and this guy doing organic and all this other stuff, we are not even close to actually reducing our carbon emissions from food and that is one of the largest carbon emissions that we have.
When people say, "Well, oh, what do you want me to be a vegan?" Kind of, yeah, kind of. I think that when you look at Michael Pollan's work, it's very clear that we should be eating like our great grandparents ate. And they were not able to afford meat more than once or twice a week. This notion that all of us came up eating meat like an Egg McMuffin in the morning and then a Chipotle burrito at lunch and then a steak dinner at night is crazy talk.
Stephen Lacey: Trump needs to stop pushing the meatloaf on Chris Christie.
Jigar Shah: He needs to stop putting ketchup on his steak. That's ridiculous.
Mark Chambers: Does he do that?
Jigar Shah: He does.
Mark Chambers: My gosh.
Jigar Shah: But this stuff is real. Land use emissions are big and the number one reason why we're losing the Amazon is because of feed production. I'm as hopeful as Mark is and I want to be hopeful about the We Are Still In movement, but I think that there's a level of seriousness that's lacking in all the changes we need to make.
There's a great article in the LA Times today about cars and how about anyone who ever does anything about cars in California loses their job. If you say anything about taking their car out of their cold, dead hands, you lose your job. You have a recall election and people lose their jobs. That same fixture is in New York.
I still have no understanding of why we don't have congestion pricing in Manhattan. It makes no sense that today it was impossible to get from one place to the other place in New York City even though it's got the best subways and the best buses and all the other things, because all these private citizens want to own cars that they never drive and they just pay $400 a month to park in parking lots and we let them do it. We just tax them and that's fine.
I just think that there's a level of seriousness that I'm looking for that's not about just saying, "Oh, we're putting solar on a bunch of buildings. Look how awesome we are." I love that Pat's number three in line on the community solar piece but we're not decarbonizing the grid here with that.
I think it's important for us to actually be real about the fact that we have Paul Hawken's book. We have this person's book, and we know exactly what it takes to get there, and we're not doing it. I don't think it's the Trump administration's fault. I'm happy to blame him just because he's weird and looks like an orangutan, but I think we all have to take responsibility for the fact that we want to live this lifestyle and we don't want to actually figure out what it takes to decarbonize the planet. It's tough, I know, but I think it's possible but I think it's going to take some serious conversation.
Stephen Lacey: Yeah, of course, that's what the podcast is set up to do I suppose. But, look, that's a pretty heady set of issues to deal with right now and each one of those sectors that you identified could be its own podcast and we could probably be choosing more of those topics. But why we're choosing electricity efficiency in the built environment, that's because we're seeing incredible amounts of capital deployed, we are seeing business model wins, people figuring it out and we're seeing an explosion of growth as a result.
It's important for us to tell that story and to be saying, "Hey, look over here. We're actually making progress." When you can't get otherwise intelligent people to even recognize that exists, that's a problem.
Jigar Shah: No, yeah, look I agree-
Stephen Lacey: We can talk all day about the agriculture sector, all these things you identified are so extraordinarily important, but the huge winds that we are seeing right now are not even being recognized by supposedly many of the smartest people in the world.
Mark Chambers: I'll jump in on that, too, because I think that we're also recognizing the fact that not everyone are the smartest people in the world and not everyone have the time to focus on being the smartest people in the world. We have to work on everyone's behalf. The ability to think about focusing on a lot of these problems, also recognize the fact that you have time to focus on those problems.
I think that we don't really acknowledge the fact that there's tons of people that would love to be diving into the agricultural sector and what's the impact of beef production, even simply in terms of water use. But they don't have the time. The reality is that we, this goes back to the comments on larger around social justice is that part of the work we have to do has to remove obstacles for people to be able to contribute to this particular cause.
Jigar's right, it's not just enough for us to put solar on rooftops, it's not just enough for us to do standups in front of efficient buildings, we have to ... We were talking about pre-K for our kids earlier. The mayor is pushing for universal pre-K 3. That's 62,000 kids that get to go to pre-K at three years old and that means that we're talking about over 100,000 parents that get in time. That time is something that you can contribute not just to economic stability and to basically being able to have a second to yourself to think about things but it also means that if we are galvanized around this common vision, that is being painted by a lot of local and really progressive mayors in cities, then perhaps there's a way forward. We're not just saying that this is the right thing to do, we're unlocking the potential of people to be able to participate in that. I think that matters.
Katherine Hamilton: That's OK.
Stephen Lacey: OK.
Katherine Hamilton: The next one.
Stephen Lacey: I guess the question that everyone is asking and I haven't seen any really good, hard numbers. When you count up all these pledges throughout the United States and we are still in campaign, is this enough to counteract what the Trump administration is doing in walking away from, say, the Clean Power Plan? Are we doing something that can completely counteract the Trump administration policies?
Katherine Hamilton: Well, it was the beauty of the Clean Power Plan was that it was state focused. It was all negotiated by states. States can set their own targets and decide what they wanted to do to meet those targets and I think that can go on. It's great that cities are doing things, but states are also moving forward. I think, certainly, that's going to continue to go forward.
What we have seeded is international leadership, that's what we've seeded by Trump stepping away. We're not being seen, globally, as the nation that's leading everybody forward, unfortunately. Other people will take that on or we'll have to find communities of mayors and state governors to be able to take that on for us. But it did seed a pretty important role for us to back out.
Stephen Lacey: Can we just talk about this weird news story over the weekend about international climate diplomats telling reporters that the Trump administration, or at least officials of the State Department, are saying privately that the administration wants to stay in the negotiations and that no policy has changed.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders came out and forcefully said, "No. We're walking away from this deal." But very clearly, nothing is really changing. The United States is still going to be party to these agreements and it's a complete shell game. It's the Trump administration wanting to commit in public-
Jigar Shah: Give me that.
Stephen Lacey: What's that?
Katherine Hamilton: Dorothy, you've always had the power to go back to Kansas. We decided the terms of our negotiation. It's not like he can do whatever he wants. It sounds like somebody did it to him. "We got a bad deal out of this." Well, we crafted the deal for ourselves. You can do whatever you want.
Stephen Lacey: Any thoughts on how this impacts U.S. standing or our national policy in any way, which I don't think it does? I think all it is, is a rhetorical game, and that's it.
Jigar Shah: There's a big money conference this morning on clean energy infrastructure and Barry Worthington who is the head of the U.S. Energy administration-
Katherine Hamilton: Association.
Jigar Shah: Association, sorry. Was on stage basically talking on behalf of the Trump administration and he basically said we're going to meet all the emission standards of the Clean Power Plan, we're going to meet all the other standards, and it's really because the technology is good enough and we're rolling it out, which is true. It's what I've been saying for a long time.
Look, I loved the previous president but I do think that it's always been the states. It's always been the companies like the ones that I've run in the past that have actually led the charge. It's the business model innovation of all of our companies going into Brazil and El Salvador and other places and figuring out the finance and bringing in OPEC and XM and all the other stuff that's solving these problems. It's not the President of the United States.
They say all sorts of wonderful stuff but remember in the first term, Obama was pushing LNG like it was going out of style. He was the one going around the world telling everybody to build two billion dollar LNG facilities for import terminals. Luckily, they were too broke to pay for them so we didn't get a lot of them.
I just think this notion that Obama was the one pushing all this stuff around the world is crazy. It was always governors, it was always states, it was always the companies of the United States of America that had all of this extraordinary knowledge and resource that were going around the world educating China, educating India, and educating other people about how to do this and they're still doing it because it's in their best interest to do it and they're making the most money. The Europeans don't know how to do it. It's still our game and I think we're still winning it, it's just this whole thing to me is just a colossal distraction.
Stephen Lacey: Mark, you get the last question on this before we open up for Q&A. Do you consider yourself, the mayor, other important figures in New York City to be the new climate ambassadors?
Mark Chambers: I think some would think so. I personally think that all of you are. I think that we're moving out of the time when we need to rely on central figures to be the hallmarks of academia in terms of saying this is what needs to happen. I also loved "Inconvenient Truth" and I used to project it on the wall in my house. But I think that we are in a place now where that is not necessary in order to galvanize change and to actually act.
Around the points of saying that there are lots of companies that are actually being equally as aggressive and making strong commitments and also innovating around a lot of these solutions; the employees that work for them, their families, their neighbors, all of you that think about what you can do to turn your particular skill set towards this effort are the true ambassadors because you also have the ability that has not happened in previous generations to be able to amass your particular opinion together into a force.
One of the first things that happened as I started to come work for the city related to Trump is when he issued the travel ban. To see what it looks like to have a city, both the city government as well as the population galvanize in support and what it was like to look at the threads on my phone of people carpooling to the airport to be able to collect as many lawyers as they could on the way there. I think that there is a part of where we exist right now that we don't need ambassadors, we need everyone to take this as a personal commitment that they then make a bottom line for their company, for their metrics of success because it requires all of you and it requires that right now. I'm less into the heroes and more into everybody knowing that they are essential because we're running out of time.
Jigar Shah: Can I second that? I think the numbers are actually pretty surprising to people when you hear them. We only have 25,000 incorporated cities and towns in the entire United States of America, that's it. Climate change is really about making sure that you're replacing bad infrastructure with good infrastructure. Today what all of you know is that building a brand new building that's net zero energy pays for itself over a very short period of time.
I think what all of you know is that widening a road is the dumbest thing you could possibly do because it just increases traffic. All of you guys should know that and if you don't you have to catch up on old Energy Gang podcasts, but what it requires is for you to attend the city council meetings, to attend your school board meetings, to attend these decision-making meetings.
My own experience is that there are very few people in decision-making capacities that actually are fighting us on this. I think almost no one is fighting us on this. They honestly just don't know. They just cut and paste whatever document that they put out to RFP in 1970 and put it back out. If someone shows up and says, "You know, actually, there's a local firm that's doing this other stuff, you probably should widen the bid process to allow for these other nonstandard bids to come in," they'll do it but no one asks. No one goes to the water board meetings, no one goes to those things.
I know it's a big sacrifice to go to these things but those are the decision makers who make the decisions around all of our carbon emission infrastructure. It's really just about showing up and telling them that there are these solutions and that they should open their aperture to allow them in.
Katherine Hamilton: I agree it's up to all of us, but I also think people need to feel empowered and they haven't. I think this has been a nut that we haven't cracked about climate change, it's such a big thing. What can I do? I think being able to have real actions and know what you can do in a real engaged way is going to be really important. I think people have been a little bit lost. The think it's a problem. It's not at the top of their list because they don't really know what they can do about it. I think that's a really big issue for people, being able to engage on a very individual level and yet still feel like they're making an impact.
Stephen Lacey: Absolutely. I agree with that for the general public who just hears a little bit about climate change here and there when they turn on the news channels and maybe they cover it for two to three minutes every year, but for the people sitting in this room and the people that we talk to every day, it is on the top of their mind. They are doing real concrete stuff to try to solve market challenges to get us to that broader goal. I am continually inspired every day talking to the people who are working on those real world challenges.
Jigar Shah: Or at least once a week.
Stephen Lacey: So respects to all of you. Let's get to some Q&A. We're going through time here pretty quickly but if there are a couple questions, we've got some mics over here. We'd love to hear from some folks. Don't be shy.
Jigar Shah: You got one on this side.
Stephen Lacey: Yes.
Rimas: We're all good?
Stephen Lacey: Yeah, we're all good.
Rimas: First of all, thank you. My name is Rimas Gulbinas. My company, Maalka, is part of the Urban Future Lab. It's an open platform for data driven sustainability initiatives. Mark, you mentioned earlier, one of the roles is to really ingrain the culture of sustainability across all the agencies. That's no easy task, obviously. But then you also said to ingrain the culture to every citizen, every building on earth in the city.
I think the first step to that is all the policies that New York has actually created. A lot of the regulations, a lot of the pledges but what we've ended up is this smorgasbord of policies and rules and regulations. You mentioned quite early, as well, that with data you basically translate that to no excuses. I'm wondering, what is the role of data? How can you actually organize data, translate that to action to actually say that there is no excuses to meeting these goals in this environment of really variable policies and regulations?
Mark Chambers: I think it's a great question and I think that it really speaks to is the fact that technology, especially around building data and building information systems has evolved to the point of which it's not as critical to have significant building management systems as it has been in the past. To your point, data is important if it's easy to get. When you start to get into large capital projects that require significant investment, it becomes a time challenge.
I think that where we are right now, we have cut a lot of the ability to get the data out by using smaller technology, really, I just need an AMI that sends me real critical pieces of information and then having someone with a laptop somewhere that can actually really parse out what that means in the building because we need to be able to make simple decisions quickly.
As far as the big picture, I think that from the work that you're describing that you guys do, we need the private sector to be able to help us promote and activate and test out very quickly implementable solutions to get as much data as possible, but on the same side recognize that we need someone that can analyze that data and give us some quick responses as to what we need to do. There's a lot of pieces to that but we're excited to be able to bridge that gap and use the city's infrastructure and 4,100 buildings as a test bed for that.
Rimas: Thank you.
Stephen Lacey: Over here.
Matthew: Hi, I'm Matthew. I'm a mechanical engineer at Ecosystem Energy. I was really curious to hear more about how do we get facilities operators, building owners, the government to adopt common sense solutions. The thing that kills me every day when I go on the subway is it's all still fluorescent lighting and there's not a single LED in the entire NTA. Who do you talk to for that?
Likewise, when it comes to reducing carbon emissions in buildings, the only way to get it to zero is to electrify every single building, but I cannot name a single building that is really big that is completely electrified. How do we kickstart these conversations? How do we get people to seriously consider electrification and adopting common sense, low payback measures like LED lighting?
Stephen Lacey: I like both these questions because they get to the core of the most difficult challenges that you're dealing with.
Mark Chambers: To the question about electrification, we are in a transition time. We don't want instantaneously for every building to get electrified. It has to happen in continuity with the grid being more and more renewable. More and more renewable grid, more and more storage to be able to use the power when we need it and letting us be in a place where we're not turning over the grid in a few years. I think that having examples of how projects can be successful is helpful, but I'm just really interested in scale and being able to have solutions that people can wrap their brain around.
That's the benefit of what we're trying to accomplish with this mandate is saying that, look, there are a lot of different ways to cut your fossil fuel use intensity. It's not just about having a new boiler. It's not just about changing out a few of your ancillary systems, it has a lot to do with caulking your windows, or putting new windows in or changing the insulation in your roof or, again, turning stuff off when you're not using it, setting a schedule. I think that the ability for us to incentivize more action in terms of actively monitoring and managing your buildings is a huge step forward in terms of getting to those buildings that can actually take in 100 percent renewable energy.
Katherine Hamilton: The way facility managers work is your chiller goes bad and you get the first thing you can get your hands on. If you, instead have, well, the first thing I can get my hands on or the best thing I can get my hands on is cheaper, it's more efficient, I'm not going to get a permit to put it in because of the rules the city is creating, than I'm going to think differently about it. A lot of this stuff, these guys don't have time to think in advance in a lot of cases.
Jigar Shah: The person whose job it is to electrify everything is the electric utility. If there were actually capitalist organizations that had shareholders and want to make profits, they'd want to sell more of their crap. It's just shocking to me how bad they are at their job. We basically sell less electricity today than we did in 2003. What is that? They're going out and saying to people, "If you want to buy an electric car, we'll give you an extra $800 subsidy." That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
We got to go back to the 1930s when we actually used to have showrooms for refrigerators and lights, and we convinced farmers and ranchers that they wanted to be electrified. They actually have to do their job. They have to go to people and say this electrified future is better for you. Here's why it's better for you. I'm going to send somebody with my logo there that you trust to tell you why it's better for you. Oh no, by the way, we're going to finance it because New York State has on bill financing and on bill financing super cheap.
I just think that this is what I'm saying is you guys need to get more outraged. I just think that when I do no money down financing, which we're doing for a lot of HVAC systems in LA right now, it's super hard. Nobody wants to listen to us, nobody cares. They're like, 'Oh, yeah, but I use Trane and Carrier and they do this thing." I'm like, "Well, but it saves you 68 percent." "Oh, that sounds like a lot of work so we don't want to do it." We're getting paid for this LCR contract to do it and it's so hard.
That is the entirety of Richard Kauffman's plan. His whole reason for being here is to get the utilities to get off their butt and actually want to make a profit. He's saying this shouldn't be on the regulated side, it should be on the unregulated side. But you can use all of the tools from your regulated side to sell on the unregulated side. That's why he brought Audrey in and the utility said, "We don't want to do any of that." That's why we're here. The fact that we're not more outraged about all of this stuff gets to me. Because they really are that bad, they are the enemy.
Stephen Lacey: We got time for one more question, right over here?
Charlie: Hi, my name's Charlie and I work for Pure Power Engineering. We're a commercial solar design firm. My question is also for Mark but if anyone else wants to weigh in, I'd love to hear your answers. Mark, there's no red tape, you have the keys to the city. What are three things you would do and what are three things you would then ask of the citizens of New York City or elsewhere to help galvanize this movement?
Mark Chambers: That's a good question.
Stephen Lacey: That's six things, can you keep them-
Mark Chambers: Six things. Three things I would do without any regulation or responsibilities and then the other three are three things I would ask of everyone?
Charlie: Citizens, yeah.
Mark Chambers: I'm looking at this from the perspective, how can we get the most done as quickly as possible. The first target for me has, again, has a lot to do with buildings. I have no regulation, I am increasing the amount of performance required in buildings. Because I have no regulation, we're also somehow convincing a lot of people with a lot of money to pay for that. Banks get ready.
The second thing I'm doing is I am figuring out how to aggressively transition everyone that has a car to either bicycle or walking or mass transit or an electric vehicle. For the most part, I want less cars on the road and I want all the ones that are on the road to be electric. Whatever makes that happen as quickly as possible, that might go to mass production in terms of some of the new long-range vehicles that are coming out.
The third thing I'll say is starting to tackle something that is really important, I think, is our relationship to waste is something that is fraught with problems. I think that the ability for us to quickly turn the corner to not just single stream for recyclables but for having actual active participation in organics. That was going to be on both sides of my list because we want all the resources to be able to collect food waste, and we want everyone to participate. We have got to stop throwing food away. It's something that we've got to fundamentally move past that as a thing that we do.
Now it's three on this side and I've got two left on the other side. What do I want you to do? I want you to recognize the fact that, the fact that you are part of this conversation is not just a thought exercise, I want you to recognize the fact that you have an obligation to bring more people into this message. We cannot keep being this esoteric group of folks that is just tree huggers and energy wonks that are moving in circles. We have got to recognize that there are millions and millions of people that need us to be able to translate what we're doing into actionable items, and it's not just my responsibility to do that. It's yours, too.
Take it seriously and start to actively recognize that everyone you interact with in your day-to-day is an opportunity for you to start engaging on what you have already indicated is really essential to our existence. Is there one more that I have left? Gosh.
Stephen Lacey: Great, you're doing great.
Katherine Hamilton: That's pretty good.
Jigar Shah: I think that's awesome.
Mark Chambers: Well, maybe I'll stop now so it's all right.
Stephen Lacey: That was impressive. I can't get past a two-part question, which is why I'm the guy asking questions usually. All right, we've run into the end of our time but I'm going to devote a few more minutes here because we've got to through some of the top news stories. There's a lot happening and I want to get the take from each of our members of the gang. This is what we call the news circuit.
I had one at the top of my list here about the White House's conflicting reports on whether or not they're going to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. I think we've agreed that it's not really that meaningful at this point. I did want to transition into an interesting congressional development, which is that the House Committee passed a bill to get a certain number of autonomous vehicles on the road. There's this bipartisan push to support autonomous vehicles, which, of course, in this environment seems pretty exciting and rare.
Katherine, anything you want to say about the impact of that autonomous bill that is moving through the House and could, potentially, pass the full Congress? Any other congressional priorities we should be keeping our eyes on that have happened since that miraculous Democrat presidential Trump agreement on the budget?
Katherine Hamilton: Oh, right. That one. The SELF DRIVE Act, H.R.3388, passed on a voice vote on the floor of the House. They're just waiting for the Senate to act now. It's pretty great. It allows for more consumer protection, it divvies up the role of State versus Federal on autonomous vehicles. It updates state safety standards, ensures more R&D. One thing that's interesting is that the Committee of Jurisdiction was Energy and Commerce and they are doing a series of hearings now called Powering America.
I'm working with majority staff on really innovative ideas to educate members. I wouldn't say these are necessarily hugely innovative legislative proposals yet because that's not there but they're looking at a number of things. The role of consumer in a transitioning grid, reliability, which are the power markets look like, how do we transition, how do we allow everybody to participate.
It's pretty interesting that they're moving forward. There's a bit of a pent up demand in actually doing something. There's been so much posturing and I think, at this point, I'm really happy to see people talking about this stuff and thinking differently. I think everybody knows whether or not you're talking about climate change or you're talking about innovation, U.S. competitiveness and jobs. Those are all still very much in the conversation.
Stephen Lacey: For sure. Let's talk about this important milestone that we passed according to the Department of Energy. We've been, obviously, tracking utility-scale pricing and installed cost per watt at GTM Research. It looked like many projects were dipping below a dollar per watt, which is the SunShot Initiative goal. They have a slightly different way of tracking their numbers, and they announced at Solar Power International last week, that the average industry cost had dipped below a dollar per watt, and you could see a dollar per watt solar in Kansas City, Missouri, for example, not just in Arizona or California. Jigar, significance there?
Jigar Shah: Well, I thought the headline was amazing. I think it's great that we've hit this goal. I think it's-
Stephen Lacey: What's the headline?
Jigar Shah: Well, it was paired with a dollar a watt and it was paired with six cents a kilowatt hour or something was their goal and we went below it, which I think is a testament to the 200,000 plus people in the solar industry working together to get that done. What was below the fold was the dumbest thing I've seen in a long time, which was-
Stephen Lacey: Oh, God. Is this a Greentech Media article that you can count on?
Jigar Shah: No, the announcement from DOE then said that they're going to basically decide to pivot to concentrating solar power. I was like, "What the hell?" Literally, like you buried the lead. They have like 78 million dollars or something for concentrating solar power, which we-
Stephen Lacey: My hunch is that this has to do more with their technology readiness scale because now all of their assessments have to do with early stage technologies and CSP more fits in line with what they're attempting to do.
Jigar Shah: I thought the announcement was great. I thought that the detail on the second page wasn't so great.
Stephen Lacey: Incredible milestone and on top of that, we saw this incredible offshore wind development in the United Kingdom --
Jigar Shah: Oh, 5.7 cents, right?
Stephen Lacey: Yeah, multiple bids coming in well under the contracted price for the Hinkley C Nuclear Power Plant, which would be, I think it's the biggest nuclear power plant, or the second biggest nuclear power plant in the UK. A massive government --
Jigar Shah: The most expensive power plant in the UK.
Stephen Lacey: Yeah, right. Now all of a sudden people are waking up and having a very serious conversation about whether it makes sense to move forward with the Hinkley C Plant. Any thoughts from either of you on the significance of that pricing milestone in offshore wind, which is consistent with what we've seen in other countries in the last six months?
Katherine Hamilton: I think it's great and I think it bodes well for the U.S. We have a tremendous resource, too, that is untapped and I think that this is great for us.
Stephen Lacey: And New York, of course, is attempting to tap that, as well.
Mark Chambers: Absolutely. We're highly interested, I think to the extent that we can begin, really, the offshore wind market here. We're aggressively trying to incentivize that. Part of it is having lessons learned like that, that show that this is not just competitive but only gets better with age is something that we really want to see more and more investment come to the eastern shore, in particular.
Jigar Shah: I think Michael Leib is really happy about the fact that came in. He's been bad mouthing that Hinkley plan for a long time and on the offshore wind stuff, I think it's amazing. I think it's important for everyone to note that there are very specific reasons why that bid can be hit in Europe that can't --
Stephen Lacey: And those are?
Jigar Shah: All of the transmission infrastructure is being funded by the government so it's not part of the cost.
Stephen Lacey: That's a major European development that's very unique and is not what we do here in the U.S.
Jigar Shah: That's a big deal. I think also just that they're far ahead of us in terms of engineering and design and financing and all that stuff. I do think the first plants in the U.S. will be more expensive.
Stephen Lacey: A lot more expensive.
Jigar Shah: I also think that, Governor Cuomo, to his credit, has been burying the lead on the offshore wind stuff too, because he's very afraid of the Cape Wind situation occurring here in New York. We'll see when it gets to be super high profile and how it's going.
I think Statoil is doing an extraordinary job of trying to educate all the stakeholders and making sure they understand that you really can't see them and they're really far away and all this other stuff but we haven't yet faced the NIMBY problem of progressivism.
Stephen Lacey: There's a really increasingly important procurement mechanism that we've heard a lot about over the last 40 years and have heard more about in the last five years and that is PURPA and that ensures that utilities procure power from lowest cost resources.
All of a sudden, solar, in particular, but also wind, is cheaper than any other resources that utilities can procure. Outside of any mandate, utilities are being forced to develop more wind and solar because of PURPA.
Now Congress is revisiting rules for PURPA, states are also working to change rules and contract lengths under PURPA. This seems to be one of the least known but most important battles for solar and wind coming up here in the United States. Any thoughts on what's going on in Congress, first of all, and the long-term implications.
Katherine Hamilton: They've tried to revisit this before, this 1978 law.
Stephen Lacey: When did they try to revisit it first?
Jigar Shah: 2008
Katherine Hamilton: Right in 2005. They've tweaked it to add more technologies to the qualifying facility list, they tried to tweak that language. They also tried, in the last energy bill in the last Congress, to make some big changes and they took all that off the table because it was just too contentious. They did the same thing with the Federal Power Act, too, it's really hard to adjust those.
The issue is that it depends on which state and whether the utility is vertically integrated or not, but it's really, really helpful, for example, in the Southeast in moving solar forward. A lot of those are PURPA contracts and the utilities have taken a stance that this is so bad for us. The issue is this is actually really great for consumers because it created competition, it allowed development beyond a monopoly. It's really important that we continue to have that.
I think that different industries are coming in. There was a big PURPA hearing so different industries like CEA and others, the ways to energy industry were all coming in saying, "We really need this. You can't just pull the rug out from under us." I don't think they will. They may try to do something in the House. I haven't seen anything on it, but I don't think it would get through the Senate. I think we're OK although we may see some tweaks.
Jigar Shah: It's a big deal and it's one of Tom Kuhn's biggest failures in the last eight or nine years with the head of EEI who almost-
Katherine Hamilton: It's in his sights, for sure.
Jigar Shah: Almost never fails. The big thing about this for those of us who care deep about this and I talked a lot about this in the 2015 extension of the ITC and PTC is that PURPA lets you put power on the grid. It just lets you do it. All right, they have to give you a price and a contract length, but they let you do it. If we can get it done, then that means that we are making the existing power plants less profitable because they're running less.
The thing that everyone missed in the headline around coal beating out gas in the first nine months of the year, is that coal plus gas was down four percentage points on their market share. All of that was from renewables.
If we continue to gain 3 percent to 4 percent market share every year, all of those coal plants and all of those old natural gas plants will be bankrupt. It is not possible for them to make money running only 23 percent of the time. This is a fight that we have to win because this is exactly how you put all those generators out of business.
Stephen Lacey: That metering was the term of the day and I think PURPA is becoming the new term of the day. There are very serious issues that we need to grapple with, which is recalculating avoided costs based on where natural gas prices are, based on grid needs, length of contracts. Certainly it's important to re-evaluate a policy that's been in place for 40 years but this is starting to be drawn down political lines.
Last question. We've touched on this a little bit, Mark, but I wanted to know whether you think the current hurricanes and rebuilding efforts in Houston and in southern Florida are sparking any sort of real conversation about climate preparedness and resiliency in the way that we saw it in New York City. Obviously, New York City and the surrounding states were very unique in their response, but what do you think about the response so far that we've seen post-hurricanes?
Mark Chambers: I'm making a special effort to try not to evaluate how cities are responding in the immediate aftermath because there's a lot that has to happen on the ground, but I think in terms of being able to understand how we exist in a world of adaptation, I think it's important to know that we're talking big dollars. New York City put 20 billion dollars into post-Sandy work and it's ongoing. It's not a small investment and it is something that only gets more and more expensive and requires more and more investment from cities because we are going to continue to see significant changes and significant impact especially for coastal cities.
There's a lot of work to be done to protect cities, but we also have to, I think, acknowledge the fact, and this is what I would hope to be one of the bigger lessons learned in terms of managing our resiliency stature, is that time and time again we see the same narrative that the most vulnerable populations throughout every one of our urban centers and cities are on the frontlines to having to deal with the impacts of the climate crisis. It's not just floods and it's not just storms, it's also heat and it's also other, I guess, metrics that we measure in terms of health and wellness.
We will consistently be in a place where we have to socially prepare our cities as well as physically prepare them. What I think one of the bigger lessons learned that we should be taking is being able to see how are we supporting the social structures of our communities and throughout all of our urban environments in a way that makes them more resistant and more resilient to these changes that are not just storm related but are also recovery related. How do you get back on your feet after that? How do you create a network that allows for you to be able to not just reset your physical life in your home but actually use this as a lever for us to create advancement and actual growth, whether it's from job creation or from more connections being made to connect people in communities to resources.
I think that's going to be one of the stronger metrics that we see as we're looking back on whether or not we were able to actually use this time in a way that created better and more thriving cities instead of ones with just more walls and barriers.
Stephen Lacey: All right. We've reached the final leg of the show. We're going to tell you something we do not know. We've pulled out some anecdotes from our daily lives, our jobs, stories that we're keeping our eyes on. Katherine, we're going to go over to you for your story first. What do you got?
Katherine Hamilton: That leads into what I was going to say. Last week I spent the week in Mexico City. It was after they had been shaken a little bit by their first earthquake, which really, really did damage in Oaxaca and Chiapas. Today they had another earthquake very close to the city. At least 20 buildings came down. They are more structurally sound because after the earthquake in the late 80s, they started changing their codes. The newer buildings are much stronger and haven't had much damage but my heart goes out to those folks and I wish them well. There are 21 million people in the Mexico City region and they don't even know all the damage that's been done.
One thing I was doing down there, it was a big, huge renewable conference. Part of it was Mission Innovation. I just wanted to highlight that. This was very hopeful for me to see globally how much people are doing on clean energy and sustainability. Mission Innovation has got 23 countries that have committed to doubling their research and many of them are doing more than double the research in seven challenge areas. Those areas are in various degrees of development and commercialization, but they really want to try to solve some gnarly issues. One smart grid, off grid, converting sunlight, HVAC, sustainable biofuels, advanced materials and CCS.
It was great to be able to talk through what are other countries doing. There were U.S. reps there so I think the U.S. is still a part of that, but it's really hopeful to see, globally, the community all trying to row in the same direction to resolve some of these issues that will tackle climate change.
Stephen Lacey: Jigar?
Jigar Shah: I found out recently that --
Stephen Lacey: You always have two or three stores. Do you have one today?
Jigar Shah: Just one.
Stephen Lacey: OK.
Jigar Shah: I found out recently that Con Ed had the largest DC power grid in the city. It was powering all the elevators when they were all DC powered way back when and they finally ripped it all out last year just in time for us to need it again for microgrids. But I just thought that it was amazing that we actually had this entire DC infrastructure in New York City to power all the elevators before they were converted to AC with inverters. And now we don't have it anymore.
Stephen Lacey: Mark, what's your story?
Mark Chambers: That's good to know. I wanted to highlight that I'm also really appreciative to the city for welcoming me as being a transplant. I live in Washington Heights. I live uptown in Manhattan and near where I live is a place called Highbridge. Highbridge is really an aqueduct that was created about 100 years ago and initially was, again, as infrastructure was developing throughout the city it would bring water into large reservoirs that are right there, around 170th Street or so. Over time as the city's infrastructure started to grow and mature as infrastructure does, it became obsolete, became no longer necessary, went into a dilapidated state and sat idle for about 30 years or so, became a place that had to be quarantined off to a certain extent.
What the city did starting a little bit under a decade ago is invest some money to reopen Highbridge and reopen this as a pedestrian bridge that spans the Harlem River. What it does is that it creates this connection between northern Manhattan and the Bronx that you can only experience by foot, maybe by bike but it is something for me that has been a very critical metric and trigger of understanding what's possible in what transitioning cities look like.
There's always going to be a lot of technology that comes to in terms of letting us bridge gaps and financial models that help us better access new implementations in buildings and around our built environment. But creating connections that actually connect people and actually make you have a time connection, as well, in understanding the fact that we can repurpose things in a way that makes it better for us. Physically seeing that and experiencing it is something that I think we have to be really conscious about, taking the opportunity to really think about and experience.
If you haven't been up there, I'm highlighting it as a destination and take a trip up there, walk across, walk back, it's not that far but it's something that is worthwhile as we try to create more connections, I think, between neighborhoods and also between where we have been and where we need to go.
Stephen Lacey: That's fantastic. I've got two. I'm pulling a Jigar. The first is just process. You saw some of those fliers underneath your seats. Next week is our New York REV Future Conference. We've touched on a lot of issues here and we're bringing together our grid research team and pretty much every luminary possible who's working on New York regulatory and energy policy here.
If you're a business trying to understand this space, maybe you're part of a utility, still trying to get a handle on how to work with many of the vendors coming into the state, or you're from out of town and you want to know what's going on in New York, I really highly recommend going.
Secondly, a big life change for me. I am going to be getting married on October 7th, and my fiancée is here in the crowd somewhere, Sandy Kreis. I'm very thrilled about that. She's been a huge supporter of me and that also means that you're going to see a couple of weeks of quiet in October after we get married. We're going to have a couple of weeks of no shows so just be prepared for that but know that I'm going to be very happy and will come back in full force.
I want to thank Katherine, Jigar, and, of course, Mark Chambers. This was a really fantastic conversation. Thank you for coming, always a pleasure to be here. And, of course, a big thanks to the Urban Future Lab, ACRE, Solar One and NYSERDA for supporting the Clean Energy Connections event. We love it here and we hope to come back here again.
You're out there, you're clearly listeners to the show, you're at networking events, pass around the show. Maybe you're swapping podcast recommendations like baseball cards. Pull up the Energy Gang. Say, "Aw, man, I got a show for you. You should listen to this." I know that there are plenty of energy geeks in your life that would want to listen to it.
We've got another podcast called The Interchange that I do, it's more of an interview format with my co-host, Shayle Kann, you can subscribe to that, as well. We've got a lot of audio content there for you. Of course, leave us a rating and review on Apple podcast and anywhere else. Thanks again. Have a great night, everybody. We appreciate your time with Jigar, Katherine, Mark. I'm Stephen Lacey and this is The Energy Gang.