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New NYC Program Steps on the Gas

Charles McNally’s 113-unit pre-war co-op building in Sunnyside, Queens, had an energy audit in 2015. The building is self-managed, and the board was hoping to get some guidance from the audit on how to become more energy-efficient and reduce operating costs. “I was disappointed that didn’t happen,” says McNally, secretary of the seven-member board. “But then I saw a tweet about the city’s Retrofit Accelerator program, and I jumped on the opportunity. They responded fast and were of immense help to us.”

As part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal to create more energy-efficient buildings, the New York City Retrofit Accelerator program (http://retrofit accelerator.cityofnewyork.us) launched one year ago. It’s a free program that offers advisory services during all phases of water- and energy-efficiency projects. “We give one-on-one advice to co-op or condo board members, owners, property managers, or operators tailored to their specific needs,” says Ali Levine, policy advisor in the mayor’s Office of Sustainability. “We help them to understand how to become more energy-efficient, comply with emission laws, identify upgrades best suited for the building, obtain cost estimates, find financial incentives, and select the right contractors.”

McNally was especially impressed that one of the city’s energy advisers came to his co-op’s board meetings. “Our first capital project was pretty obvious,” McNally says. “We switched to high-efficiency LED lighting, which now saves us $4,700 a year. This change will pay for itself in less than five years.” The next step in retrofitting McNally’s building will be the heating system. New York City has notoriously inefficient heating systems, according to Levine, and buildings are responsible for 73 percent of all emissions in the city. But there are signs of progress. The new New York City Energy and Water Use Report reveals that from 2010 to 2013, thousands of the city’s biggest buildings trimmed energy use by 6 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent.

The Retrofit Accelerator staff recommended that McNally’s board do a tune-up rather than a replacement of its aging boiler. The staff also opened the board’s eyes to the building’s solar potential. “We have 20,000 square feet available for solar panels,” McNally says. “We’re looking at the financial incentive programs right now, which usually come as cash-back rebates. Solar could provide 30 percent of our energy needs and would save us $30,000 a year.”

Buildings with professional managers are also turning to Retrofit Accelerator. Stephanie Minor of Argo Real Estate, property manager of the Curzon House co-op in Queens, reports: “The relationship we have with the program is more like a morphing. We work together mostly to find out where we can get the best incentives in form of cash rebates. Even though our boiler is inefficient, we are not ready to replace the heating system. For now we just follow their stop-gap recommendations, like insulating our pipes. They’re happy to help even with small improvements.”

And they’re also happy to help small buildings. “While the Retrofit Accelerator program is designed for larger properties,” Levine says, “our sister program, Community Retrofit NYC (http://bit.ly/CommRetrofit), provides the same service to owners, operators, and residents of small- and mid-sized multi-family buildings (five to 50 units) located in Central Brooklyn and Southern Queens.”

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