Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on October 26, 2022
A century ago, Jackson Heights, Queens, was an incubator of new housing cooperatives and garden apartments. Today, several of its century-old housing cooperatives are banding together to cut the cost of cutting their buildings’ carbon emissions — even though they don’t fall under the looming requirements of Local Law 97.
“We organized a bunch of people from all 14 buildings,” says James McIntyre, the board president at one of the 14 prewar co-ops that make up Hawthorne Court. “We think it’s massively important to take advantage of the incentives that are out there to cut carbon emissions, but we wanted a roadmap that gives up options. And we wanted to leverage the economics by bringing in several buildings.”
They were helped by a neighborhood grassroots group called the Queens Climate Project, whose mission, in the words of one member, is “sharing information, education and a network of support.” The project introduced the Hawthorne Court co-ops to the NYC Accelerator.
This free city service helps building owners navigate the maze of carbon-cutting retrofits and incentives to pay for them. The 14 co-ops were paired with Ian Becker, an Accelerator account manager. “Our role,” Becker says, “is to help boards, shareholders and property managers make their buildings more energy efficient. The Hawthorne Court co-ops wanted to work with the other buildings in the complex, which are basically identical. They decided to use the Low-Carbon Capital Planning program.”
That program, run by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), will pick up as much as 75% of the cost of an energy audit, which must focus on how to switch building systems from fossil fuels to high-performance electric technology, or on how to get buildings ready for electrification. Co-op and condo boards can use the audits to satisfy Local Law 87 and/or map out ways to comply with Local Law 97. (The former law requires buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to undergo an energy audit every 10 years; the latter law will require owners to reduce their buildings’ carbon emissions below certain caps or face fines, beginning in 2024.)
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The Jackson Heights co-ops have brought in Bright Power, an energy and water management company, to conduct a stringent Level 2 audit developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers. That level of audit, which satisfies Local Law 87, will document all existing equipment and its condition, then offer boards options for reducing both energy consumption and carbon emissions.
“It’s a win-win,” says Jeff Perlman, Bright Power’s chief executive. “Boards can comply with Local Law 87, plus make a plan for Local Law 97. It’s a planning exercise because these retrofits are not going to happen overnight.”
Bright Power is now getting ready to conduct the audits and expects to have a final report ready in early 2023. The co-ops’ out-of-pocket cost is $8,500 — which all 14 co-ops approved unanimously — and the NYSERDA grant covers the rest of the $34,000 price tag. Then the co-ops will have to agree on their next step. Electrical upgrades? Solar panels? Electric heat pumps? “The audit,” says Becker of NYC Accelerator, “will allow them to identify the measures they can implement.”
McIntyre, who works for a non-profit lender that finances green projects, is aware that the incentives don’t stop at the state level. The federal Inflation Reduction Act has set aside $27 billion to launch a national green bank, which will help fund renewable energy projects nationwide.
“A lot of buildings in New York City are not currently in compliance with Local Law 97,” McIntyre says, “but there are going to be massive incentives to do the necessary work. I want my co-op to be ready for that IRA money.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — ENERGY CONSULTANTS: Bright Power and NYC Accelerator. PROPERTY MANAGER: Garden Heights Property Management.
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