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St. James’s Tower’s Two-Part Solution

The two gas-fired boilers in the 33-story St. James’s Tower condominium near Sutton Place had reached the ripe age of 40. The condo board, aware that Local Law 97 will soon start punishing buildings that fail to reduce their carbon emissions to prescribed levels, decided it was time to do something about the aging equipment.


“We’ve been talking with our property manager, Fred Rudd, for the past year,” says Don Epstein, the president of the condo board. “We talked about ways to comply with Local Law 97 while making the building more energy efficient and also saving money for our unit-owners.”


No time to waste. The clock was ticking. “We were facing fines beginning in 2025,” says John Faldetta, the building’s resident manager, “so we wanted to get ahead of the curve.”


Consultants at Lawless + Mangione Architects/Engineers gave the board a list of options. They ranged from refurbishing the old Cleaver-Brooks boilers to getting rid of them and installing two state-of-the-art cogen systems. After extensive debate, the board chose a middle road. 


“We elected to go with removing both boilers, then adding one new boiler and a cogen system,” Epstein says, referring to cogeneration, or combined heat and power, which turns waste heat into electricity and useful heat while giving a building’s energy efficiency a boost.


A smarter system. Under the new setup, the new boiler produces domestic hot water for the lower 16 stories and also produces recirculating hot water for the heating units in all apartments. The gas-fired Capstone C65 cogen unit heats the water that feeds the boiler, and it generates electricity for the building’s common areas and pumps. A new electric boiler heats domestic hot water for apartments on the 17th story up to the penthouse. 


“The new system shifts from steam to hot water,” says Ralph Germain, one of the engineers who designed the system. “We’re going to reduce their natural gas consumption by 20 to 30%, or maybe more, which will reduce their carbon emissions tremendously.”


There’s yet another benefit to this dual-mode system, says Jim Koontz, the vice president of sales at RSP Systems, which distributes the Capstone units. “In addition to producing heat and electricity,” he says, “this cogen system is also a source of backup power in event the grid goes down.” An afterthought before Hurricane Sandy, backup power is now a priority with 90% of his customers, Koontz adds.


Reaping rewards. The upgrade at St. James’s Tower required a $1.8 million investment. An investment tax credit of about $500,000 plus boiler rebates will soften the sting. Despite the big number, there was surprisingly little pushback on the assessment from the condominium’s 100 unit-owners.


“I think that’s because we’re good communicators,” says Epstein, the board president. “We were able to explain the reasons for these capital expenses — complying with Local Law 97, the aging equipment. We could also justify the expense based on the return on investment. The total dollars we’ll pay to Con Edison for electricity and gas will be reduced by $1.8 million over the next six and a half years.”

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