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Bronx Co-op Proves That You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Go Green

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on May 4, 2022

Grand Concourse, The Bronx

Energy efficiency, South Bronx co-op, solar panels, dual fuel, domestic hot water, co-op board.

(Clockwise from top left): the Sherman Terrace Co-op in the South Bronx; the rooftop solar panels; the new dual-fuel burner; copper piping on the new domestic hot water system; infrastructure.

May 4, 2022

Derek Jones, board president at the Sherman Terrace Co-op in the South Bronx, was determined to prove that a building doesn’t have to be rich to be energy-efficient. And so at his no-frills, working-class co-op, Jones embarked on a campaign to convince his fellow board members and shareholders that they, too, could cut energy usage and carbon emissions. It has been an uphill struggle.

It began, shortly after Jones joined the board in 2019, with a refinancing of the underlying mortgage that set aside $665,000 for capital projects. Based on an energy audit by EN-POWER Group, an energy engineering consultancy, Jones had a long wish list.

“I quickly realized I wanted to push change because people were complaining but nobody ever did anything about it,” Jones says. “I was into green energy, so I went to events and learned about energy alternatives. Then I came back and told the board we need to do these things. I wanted to get ahead of violations and chase grants from NYSERDA (the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority).”

Sherman Terrace, a 66-unit, postwar brick building, has a large retiree population. There was initially resistance to Jones’s ambitious agenda, so he sought to improve communications by posting a monthly newsletter on walls and online, and by publicizing notices through texts and emails. “Some of the old people are resistant,” Jones says, “but improved communication lowered a lot of their anxiety.”

It was time to get to work. A new burner was installed, enabling the boiler to run on natural gas instead of #2 oil. A separate domestic hot water system meant the boiler did not have to run year-round. LED lights were installed in common areas, and shareholders were encouraged to make the switch inside their apartments. Nearly 600 LED bulbs were installed, along with energy-efficient shower heads and faucets. The maraschino on this green sundae was insulating and resurfacing the roof before installing 318 solar panels.

The solar panels now provide about 30% of the building’s electricity, and in 2021, their first full year of operation, they shaved $28,000 off the co-op’s Con Ed bill. But Jones wasn’t satisfied. The board embarked on a program to install an electric submeter in every apartment — which meant the building’s electricity bill would no longer be baked into the maintenance but would be the responsibility of individual shareholders. 

“Now that people are responsible for paying for their own electricity, the hope is that they’ll use less,” Jones says. “Some people hated me for it, but it was the right thing to do.”

The co-op’s energy-efficiency letter grade, based on annual benchmarking of energy and water usage, has leaped from a low C to an A.

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Thomas Morrisson, director of energy management at En-Power Group, has been working with Sherman Terrace for the past three years. He notes that here, as in most buildings, a motivated individual sparked the push for greater energy efficiency.

“Derek wanted his building to be an example of what low- and middle-income co-ops can do,” Morrisson says. “These improvements aren’t just for fancy co-ops. Responsibility has to be taken by co-op and condo boards to drive these projects, get the property manager involved and bring in the right professionals. At Sherman Terrace, Derek is the champion. The rest of the board has bought into what he’s trying to do. They wouldn’t be approving these projects otherwise.”

Jones isn’t finished. He hopes to install water-conserving toilets, and once the savings kick in he hopes the shareholders will be able to pocket their property tax abatements rather than having the money funneled into the co-op’s operating budget.

“It’s hard for people to be patient,” Jones says. “Though we’re saving on our energy costs, their maintenance costs haven’t gone down yet. If we keep a balanced budget, that’ll take a couple of years. I’ll feel so much better when people see the changes. But,” he adds, “I have to be patient, too.”


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