Beacon Makes Electric History

Members of Beacon Climate Action Now and Food & Water Watch rallied at Polhill Park on Monday (March 20) before the City Council vote. Photo by Valerie Shively.

Members of Beacon Climate Action Now and Food & Water Watch rallied at Polhill Park on Monday (March 20) before the City Council vote. Photo by Valerie Shively.

Council passes fossil-fuel ban on new construction 

Beacon on Monday (March 20) banned the use of fossil fuels in all new construction and major renovation projects, a move that the City Council hopes will lead New York State and other municipalities to follow suit. 

The law, which was adopted unanimously, goes into effect Jan. 1 and will prohibit the use of fossil fuels such as natural gas and heating oil. Renovations of buildings that involve more than 75 percent of the heated floor area and the replacement or installation of a heating or hot water system must also use electric equipment, but all other existing structures will not be affected. 

With the move, Beacon became the third municipality in New York state to limit greenhouse-gas emissions in buildings. 

A New York City law adopted in 2021 limits the emissions allowed in newly constructed buildings, with exceptions for hospitals, laundromats and crematoriums, but is not an outright fossil-fuel ban. Also in 2021, Ithaca passed a measure requiring new and existing buildings to be electrified by 2030, the same year the city has pledged to become carbon-neutral.

Veekas Ashoka of Beacon Climate Action Now speaks at a rally at Polhill Park on Monday (March 20) before the council vote.Photo by Valerie Shively.

Veekas Ashoka of Beacon Climate Action Now speaks at a rally at Polhill Park on Monday (March 20) before the council vote. (Photo by Valerie Shively)

It took the Beacon council less than five months to adopt its regulations after Dan Aymar-Blair, the Ward 4 representative, and Paloma Wake, an at-large member, announced the proposal during a climate rally in October. On Monday evening, during a pre-vote rally, Council Member George Mansfield thanked the activist groups Beacon Climate Action Now and Food & Water Watch for pushing the council to take up the legislation. 

“In my 14 years on the council, this is one of the more significant votes that I’ve had the opportunity to participate in,” Mansfield said. “Let’s hope that we can lead by example.”

That could soon come to be, as state legislators and Gov. Kathy Hochul have signaled their support for what would be the country’s first statewide all-electric building law, although they differ on the details. 

Earlier this month, state Senate members released a set of 2023-24 budget resolutions that include a proposal to require new buildings of six stories or less to be all-electric by Jan. 1, 2025. Taller buildings would be held to the standard by July 2028.

The Assembly’s plan calls for new buildings of six stories or less to go electric by 2026, and 2029 for taller buildings. It also directs the Department of Public Service to determine electricity capacity for particular regions and projects. 

Hochul has proposed prohibiting the use of fossil fuels in new construction of single-family homes or apartment buildings of three stories or less by Jan. 1, 2026; other buildings would follow three years later. 

With both houses of the Legislature and the governor more or less on the same page, it’s possible a statewide law could be approved as part of the 2023-24 budget, which is due for passage by April 1. 

If that happens, the impact could be substantial. According to the state Climate Action Council, which was appointed in 2020 to create a roadmap for achieving New York’s climate goals, buildings account for 32 percent of the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions, the most of any sector. By one estimate, a statewide ban on fossil fuels in new construction would be equivalent to keeping 870,000 cars off the road for a year.

If a state law isn’t adopted this year, Beacon’s legislation was written so it could easily be replicated by other municipalities. For example, it includes a handful of exemptions — some of which, such as laboratories or hospitals, are unlikely to apply to Beacon — that state energy officials have said would likely be included in a state law. 

The city based its law on concepts already studied by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, including the exemptions, Beacon City Administrator Chris White explained. “This is a groundbreaking law in its simplicity and in its modeling,” he said. “We’re just accelerating the timeline for implementation.”

During the rally before Monday’s vote, Aymar-Blair noted that, with the law’s passage, Beacon has likely reached its peak for greenhouse-gas emissions. “The only way we can go is down from there,” he said. “We should all be proud of the moment we turned the ship.”

2 thoughts on “Beacon Makes Electric History

  1. Requiring electric in new construction instead of gas is the way to go for the worrisome times ahead. [via Instagram]

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