New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
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A Manhattan co-op used Local Law 87 to overhaul their entire energy system and saved money in the process.
The directors of a Manhattan co-op see an opportunity in Local Law 87, the new rule that requires buildings to perform an energy audit and take steps toward “retro-commissioning” – which is a basic overhaul to ensure heating, air conditioning, and water systems are operating efficiently.
Some people see a problem. Others see an opportunity. The board at 110 Riverside Drive, a block-long, two-building co-op on West 83rd Street in Manhattan, falls into the second category. The directors saw an opportunity in Local Law 87, the new rule that requires buildings to perform an energy audit and then take steps toward “retro-commissioning” – which is a basic overhaul to ensure heating, air conditioning, and water systems are operating efficiently.
“They used Local Law 87 as a catalyst to really move forward,” says Michael Scorrano, managing director at the energy services company EN-POWER GROUP, which performed work at 110 Riverside Drive.
The co-op completed its energy audit in the fall of 2012, while simultaneously deciding to participate in the Multifamily Performance Program (MPP). Offered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), it covers condos and co-ops and also starts with an energy audit. If 110 Riverside successfully completes the MPP and reduces energy usage by 15 percent, the co-op will receive a rebate of $107,000. Under the MPP version for which 110 Riverside qualified, the building will get back part of the money spent on the audit, or about half of the $12,000 cost. (Scorrano notes that the current MPP does not cover energy audits.) The audit showed that the co-op was doing extremely well. According to NYSERDA, it rated 67 percent, meaning that it was better, energy-efficiency-wise, than 67 percent of similarly sized and situated buildings.
Room for Improvement
But there is still room for improvement. The retro-commissioning work required at the co-op by Local Law 87 will include basic maintenance and repair work to the current boiler system. “We will put in new burners, a new burner management system; we will overhaul the boiler, tune the gaskets, that sort of thing,” Scorrano says.
Also as part of the retro-commissioning angle, EN-POWER will perform a programming change on the boiler to reduce the overnight temperature by one degree. That work will cost only about $1,000, but just that one degree will save the building $2,500 annually.
“Retro-commissioning is not supposed to be a major item,” he says. “It’s about tweaking things and making sure that they work the way they should.” All told, Scorrano estimates the co-op’s retro-commissioning cost at about $25,000.
The audit suggested other measures that would not be required under Local Law 87 but would help the building meet its MPP goals. The biggest, as in almost all buildings, would be to convert from burning fuel oil to natural gas. The problem is that the building is in an area that is not currently piped to handle a boiler system load. Scorrano says the co-op could pay an extra $100,000 for Con Ed to link the building to its system, or it could wait to see if the company decides to expand into the neighborhood on its own. If Con Ed starts to service the neighborhood fully, the cost to convert from oil to gas would be about $250,000 and the return on investment (ROI) would be about four years.
Another biggie on the MPP list, and one the co-op is still considering, would be to install a separate domestic gas-fired hot water heater. Currently, the building provides residents with hot water for things like showers and dishwashing by utilizing steam-coilers in the boiler.
“That requires the boiler to be operating year round, even in the summer,” he says.
There is a small existing Con Ed line that provides natural gas for in-unit stoves and the building’s dryers. Scorrano says it is possible that the line could accommodate a hot water heater, but they are still checking with Con Ed. The savings would be dramatic.
“It would cost about $100,000 and it has a 3.6-year ROI,” Scorrano says. An upgraded system would mean the building would use 17 percent less energy annually, easily allowing the co-op to meet its MPP goal.
One project the co-op did tackle was to modernize its elevator system – a project that had begun before the Local Law 87 energy audit and the MPP process. The new elevator system has so-called “regen drives” that use the energy created by the elevators’ motion to feed power back into the system. The elevator project, which cost about $1 million, will be paid over a four-year period and comes with a $21,000 annual energy savings.
Co-op board member Carl Valentine says the initial year’s cost was paid by a shareholder assessment. Subsequent payments will be made from the board’s operating resources.
Another project that helped the co-op meet its NYSERDA goal was a lighting upgrade. Motion sensor bi-level lighting was installed in service stairwells and older fluorescent bulbs were swapped out for better ones. The total project cost was $7,500 and carries a $1,600 savings.
Valentine says the board is also considering options that did not even arise in the initial energy audit. The part of the co-op that faces Riverside Drive is generally much colder than the interior areas, and because of the way the heating zones are configured, when thermostats are triggered in colder areas, they also pour more heat into apartments that are already warm. “It’s very inefficient,” he says.
The co-op is looking to a neighboring building that is trying out a multi-zoned system that would eliminate that inefficiency. The board can’t even ballpark the costs yet, preferring to see how it works nearby, but it is an option on the table.
Opportunity, Not Burden
Valentine repeats that Local Law 87 is not seen as another burden imposed on them by the city, but rather as an impetus to do the types of things that will save money in the long run. He points out how one resident switched his apartment light bulbs to energy-saving models and posted building-wide how much he personally saved on his electric bill.
“It’s really about changing how you think about using energy, just as much as changing the way our boiler works,” Valentine says. “Changing people’s thought process is a big deal. It’s hard to do. It can take a while.”
Compliance by the Numbers
When do you have to comply with Local Law 87? It all depends on your building’s block number. If it ends in 3, you’re due in 2013; if it ends in 4, your deadline is 2014; and so on.
It’s a two-stage process: first get an energy audit. Second, comply with retro-commissioning. Both have to be done by your deadline. The whole procedure has to be repeated every 10 years.
You are not required to tackle every project suggested in the energy audit. But you do have to make sure that your heating, air conditioning, and water systems are up to the standards set under Local Law 87.
For example, hot water heater temperatures should be set no higher than 130 degrees. Energy consultants will check to ensure your motion sensors in common hallways are placed properly to work efficiently. If your heating system is programmed to set back at night, retro-commissioning will ensure that it is actually setting back.
No matter what, those in the know are suggesting that you tackle your Local Law 87 project as early as possible. Michael Scorrano, managing director at the energy services company EN-POWER GROUP, says early adopters can take advantage of energy savings sooner rather than later. Scorrano also says there are currently financial incentives to be gained from Con Ed and agencies like NYSERDA, but they may not last; the law could change at any time. So, if you can, act soon. —JVH
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