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NEW YORK CITY-Real estate portfolios were depicted as the central hub for greenhouse gas emissions during the PLI (Practicing Law Institute) Green Real Estate Summit, held here recently and headed by Ellen Sinreich of Green Edge LLC. As the nexus for such emissions, buildings, land-use projects and real estate portfolios are the primary drivers of anthropogenic climate change, that is climate change derived from human activity, according to Christopher Pyle of CTG Energetics Inc.

Agreeing that buildings are the biggest consumers of energy in the US, Frederick Fucci, a partner in the locally based law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP, urged developers to seek alternative sources of energy. Alternative energy, he explained, refers to onsite or local generation of electric or thermal energy, either through systems using natural gas, fuel cells, solar energy or biomass. Although they are renewable, wind, hydro and tidal systems are not generally available in site-specific urban or suburban locations, he noted.

Conventional energy refers to “central generation” or grid-supplied electricity and natural gas, plus back-up diesel generators for emergency power, he explained. “Every time you flick the switch today in most places in the US, it means that you are tapping into a huge infrastructure that, in the end, relies on highly polluting, inefficient and outmoded technology. …It is the greatest single contribution to the global warming problem in the US and, were it not for China and its even heavier reliance on coal, the world.” He urged that a reliable supply of energy be taken into account at the earliest stage of the real estate planning process.

“A considerable effort needs to be made to reduce the amount of energy (the buildings) consume,” he said. “More fundamentally, real estate is an important part of the solution because every commercial and residential facility is potentially a small power plant–and this is the real alternative to the central generation model.”

Pyke pointed out that climate change “cuts across our economy and our environment . . . It is clear that humanity is exceeding the ability of the global atmosphere to assimilate the byproducts of fossil fuel combustion –greenhouse gas emissions. It defies logic to think that our finite atmosphere would have an infinite capacity to absorb these gasses.”

What used to be a fairly simple process, Fucci acknowledged, is “now presenting real estate developers with many choices that require weighing complex technological, legal and risk factors. . . One can think of every building, whether it is new or old, as an opportunity to make a difference towards reducing those emissions, and the various stakeholders can resolve to make a concentrated effort to turn that opportunity into reality.”

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