Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on February 16, 2022
There’s sticker shock. And then there’s the shock an Inwood co-op board got when it set out to replace its aging oil-burning boiler with a new dual-fuel model in order to meet the looming demands of the Climate Mobilization Act. The board’s consultant estimated that the cost of the conversion to natural gas would be a little over $200,000. According to Con Edison, the cost of needed infrastructure upgrades would actually be a little over $3 million.
“It was devastating,” says Hal Fuchsman, board president at the seven-story, 50-unit Inwood Park Apartments co-op at the northern tip of Manhattan. “Con Edison is telling us we’re not going to be able to do the one project that would bring us in compliance with the Climate Mobilization Act. I’m still picking my jaw off the floor.”
The predicament of the Inwood co-op is, in Fuchsman’s view, “perverse.” In the spring of 2021 the board hired Bright Power to perform an energy audit. The consultant estimated that a switch from #4 oil to natural gas would cut the building’s carbon emissions by 23%. The board then hired Metro Group to prepare a cost estimate for converting to natural gas and coordinating with Con Edison. The estimated cost was $212,500, with an added $10,000 to $15,000 for excavating the street and sidewalk to accommodate a new gas line.
Then came the shocker. In a “Service Determination” dated Feb. 14, 2022 Con Edison stated the conversion would require two upgrades. Con Edison would pay for replacing the existing 2” low-pressure gas line with a 1” high-pressure line from the main to the property line. But the co-op would have to pay for installing a nearly half-mile-long 4” high-pressure plastic gas main at a cost of $3,050,886.86. The utility offered a payment plan of slightly more than $60,000 a month for 60 months.
Which led Fuchsman to ask a question: “Why should we subsidize a public utility’s infrastructure?”
Con Edison, through a spokesman, offered this answer: “The cost estimate provided would cover the work needed to bring in natural gas from a different main, the closest of which is nearly half a mile away. Con Edison covers the first 100 feet of main for any building, but the cost for work beyond that is covered by the customer making the upgrade and is not passed along to other customers in rates.”
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The impasse leaves the co-op with two unappetizing options, according to Fuchsman. The board could scrap the project and build the anticipated fines into the operating budget — $19,000 a year beginning in 2025 and $46,000 a year beginning in 2030. Or it could switch from #4 oil to more expensive #2 oil, which would cut emissions less than a conversion to natural gas while reducing but not eliminating annual fines.
Meanwhile, Fuchsman has sent a letter laying out his co-op’s plight to the district’s first-term City Council member, Carmen De La Rosa, with copies to Mayor Eric Adams, members of the City Council and state Legislature, the Public Service Commission and Con Edison.
“Reduction of carbon emissions is an important and laudable endeavor,” Fuchsman’s letter states. “However, these inflexibly written laws in conjunction with public utilities’ unwillingness to provide the necessary service are both counterproductive and are failing your fellow New Yorkers.”
Fuchsman is hopeful his battle cry is heard across the city. “It’s a brand new City Council,” he says, “so it’s up to board members, property managers and advocates to reach out to their elected officials and try to convince them that they have to take into account buildings’ needs and capabilities. A building built in 1937 like ours is different from one built in 2022. There has to be some allowance for that. It’s very easy — and laudable — to write noble legislation. But it’s also dangerous.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — PROPERTY MANAGER: Pride Property Management. ENERGY CONSULTANT: Bright Power. MECHANICAL ENGINEER: The Metro Group.
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