Alex Beauchamp, of New York, is northeast region director for Food & Water Watch. Tom Goodfellow is founder of Goodfellow Construction Management Ltd., of Syracuse.
Seven years ago, Tom Goodfellow had a dream. The Whitlock Building in downtown Syracuse had been vacant for more than a decade when he closed on the property in 2014. Home to a variety of successful businesses over the years, the building was a Syracuse staple, sitting right on its main street.
Tom had a vision for a revitalized Whitlock Building ready to launch Syracuse into the 21st century. Today, that vision has been realized.
The Whitlock Building is Syracuse’s first mixed-use all-electric building. It will not be the last.
The Whitlock Building consists of 26 apartments, 24,000 square feet of commercial space, and not a single fossil fuel hookup. LG air-sourced, electric heat pumps provide state-of-the-art heating and cooling, through even the coldest winters. Helping out are the triple-pane windows with closed cell foam, and the R-40 and R-50 roof insulation — almost double what the building code requires. An LG Energy Recovery Ventilator provides conditioned fresh air, efficient electric hot water and electric stoves, and LED lights are used throughout the building.
As fossil fuel and utility prices skyrocket, all-electric buildings offer relief. Thanks to the cheaper costs of building electric, Whitlock Building apartments are rented at below market price and residents report tremendous utility savings — the average electricity bill is $30 per month among current tenants. To help moderate costs and energy use, each apartment is equipped with a SENSE unit that allows the occupant to track which appliances are pulling the most energy. The planned 50 kw solar system on the roof will provide additional electricity to the building, further reducing tenant electricity bills.
All-electric buildings are built for the future — with care for future generations top of mind. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is explicit that we must stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible to avoid climate chaos. That includes stopping use of these dirty fuels in buildings. New York state consumes more fossil fuels in our residential and commercial buildings than any other state in the country, and those dirty buildings are our top source of climate-heating greenhouse gasses.
The changing climate is already wreaking havoc on our region, leading to more flooding and extreme weather events in Central New York, and increasing days with extreme heat. According to the New York Climate Clearinghouse’s climate models, the number of days with extreme heat (more than 90 degrees) will increase by an average of 56 days per year by 2100 — up from 10 to 15 days a year today. That could be deadly.
Buildings can help.
The Whitlock Building is a local case study of a movement that’s happening all over our state. New York builders have the technology, tools and know-how today to build all-electric buildings that revitalize main streets, save residents money and keep polluting greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
In November, Ithaca voted to decarbonize every single building in the city by 2030. In December, New York City became the largest city in the country with a ban on fossil fuels in new construction. It’s time to take this momentum statewide — and we don’t have time to wait.
Earlier this month, 100 statewide groups, including Food & Water Watch and 14 groups based in Syracuse, sent letters to Gov. Kathy Hochul demanding she take action on this issue. Local legislators, including Sen. Rachel May, are co-sponsoring the All-Electric Buildings Act, which would enact an immediate gas ban, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has included the legislation in her budget proposal. Now all that’s needed is for Hochul to meet the moment.
April 1 could be a landmark moment for our state — or a massive missed opportunity. That’s the day that the final state budget is due. In that budget, Hochul has the opportunity and indeed the imperative to include a ban on fossil fuels in new construction statewide, starting in 2024. If she capitalizes on that opportunity, New York will become the first state in the country to take such an incredible move off fossil fuels.
With an immediate ban on fossil fuels in new construction, we’ll ensure that New York’s future generations are raised in buildings cleaner, cheaper, and better for the environment than those we live in today.
Gov. Hochul needs to make it happen.
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