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Sometimes a great idea is embraced because it is well-designed to achieve one particular purpose. At other times, its success is attributed to its ability to achieve a variety of different goals simultaneously. BuildSmart NY is in the latter category, as its different components merge prudent fiscal policy, sustainability and environmental protection.

At the end of 2012, New York faced significant economic challenges as it emerged from the Great Recession of 2008-2009, and the State needed to reduce costs significantly to balance its budget. Recognizing this challenge, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo launched BuildSmart NY, which was designed to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020 and achieve significant cost savings.

This approach made enormous sense, given the fact that:

  • State-owned buildings consume approximately 3,000 GWh annually, which is approximately 5% of the energy consumed by all buildings throughout the state.
  • New York State owns approximately 224 million square feet of real estate, which includes universities, prisons, mental health hospitals, office buildings, and facilities that house its trains, buses and other equipment.
  • New York State spends approximately $550 million a year on energy costs, including electricity and fuel.
  • Six state entities represent 92% of the State’s energy bill – State University of New York, Department of Corrections and Correctional Services, the City University of New York, Office of General Services, Office of Mental Health and Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Reducing state costs was one gubernatorial motivation. Another equally important guiding thought was conveying New York’s strong support for sustainability and building on such efforts as the K-Solar. This provides New York State school districts with the necessary tools and expertise to bring solar energy to their facilities, allowing them to be more energy efficient and reduce their energy costs.

BuildSmart NY participants can choose from a variety of offerings that include financing, design services, and engineering consulting, making it easier to adopt “green” infrastructure upgrades. These wide-ranging improvements center on the retrofitting and replacement of existing building systems with more energy-efficient models. They also include new lighting, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Renewable and other clean energy generation initiatives will also contribute to meeting BuildSmart NY’s goals, as well as real-time energy monitoring tools, data analytics and smarter building operations.

The good news is that lofty aspirations are turning into impressive results. In the first year, The BuildSmart NY progress report revealed the agencies that operate the state’s universities, transit networks, hospitals, offices and other facilities were well on their way to meeting the Governor’s statewide mandate. These energy savings have also resulted in a 4.7% overall reduction in energy use per square foot at state government facilities and a corresponding decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by more than 130,000 tons a year.

The BuildSmart NY program is demonstrating how cutting the cost of government and achieving environmental sustainability are complementary, even necessary, components of a “smart government” long-term strategy.

Gil C. Quiniones (@GQEnergy) is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the New York Power Authority. Quiniones has served as Senior Vice President of Energy and Telecommunications for the New York City Economic Development Corporation during the Bloomberg Administration, and worked for Con Edison for 16 years.