Paula Chin in Bricks & Bucks on June 24, 2020
The electricity at River House had been on the fritz for years. There had been frequent power outages at the three-building, 213-unit co-op in the Hudson River town of Peekskill. The outages lasted several minutes and occurred multiple times a day.
The problem, as it turned out, lay with the property’s two aging transformers, which could have meant a hefty bill to buy replacements. Instead, by turning to the right experts, the co-op board managed to get brand-new transformers – without paying a penny.
“We had known that the transformers were leaking oil, but Con Edison had inspected them and determined that it wasn’t significant enough for them to address,” says Joe Raffaele, one of the co-op board’s seven members. Then, last year, he noticed that in addition to the leaks, the transformers – the six-foot steel boxes that power down electricity in the distribution lines to a safe voltage – were humming loudly.
“Those two signs meant they were running hot, and above a safe rate,” says Raffaele, who happens to be an electrical engineer. He promptly asked Con Ed to send over an inspector, who determined that the units, which had been installed when River House was built in 1975, were nearing the end of their useful life.
The board had a decision to make. “We could wait until the two transformers failed completely, but the time it would take to arrange for a temporary generator and replace them meant we could be without electricity for a week,” says board president Nick Corbi. “Even though there was a lot of pushback from residents who wanted to delay the job, we decided to be proactive rather than have an emergency on our hands.”
Problem was, it wasn’t clear who was obligated to pay for the generators, which cost about $75,000 each. “Because we had no physical drawings, not even from the Peekskill Building Department, Con Ed wasn’t certain who owned the transformers, especially since they were on our property,” Raffaele says. “But I pushed them to do the research, and they discovered that they were responsible.”
It fell on River House, though, to get diesel generators on site as a temporary back-up power source. Fortunately, Raffaele knew exactly who to turn to: SKAE Engineering Solutions, who he had worked with at his job at the Indian Point nuclear power plant in nearby Buchanan. “I set up a meeting with them, Con Ed and the board so everyone could coordinate,” Raffaele says. “I also asked SKAE to put together a timeline showing exactly how they would synchronize with Con Ed, when the power for which buildings would be shut down and for how long, so residents would know exactly what to expect.”
SKAE also surveyed the buildings to determine their exact power requirements. “Instead of simply matching the existing transformers’ size, we narrowed it down to the actual load so we could get properly sized generators,” says project executive Anthony Russo, a principal at SKAE. “That saved the board about $50,000 on the rental cost on three temporary generators.”
The week-long project, which was completed in early June, went like clockwork. “It was a well-orchestrated operation, just like a MetroNorth schedule,” Raffaele quips. “And Con Ed also went above and beyond. As predicted, the power was out for only four or five hours” – while the temporary generators were hooked up. “The residents, who had really complained at first, had nothing but compliments,” Raffaele says.
As SKAE’s Russo sees it, the board did everything right. “Not to disparage contractors or electricians, who are better with the nuts-and-bolts aspect, but it’s important to bring in a professional level of engineering when you deal with big projects like this,” he says.
For its part, the board couldn’t be happier. “The job cost us $150,000, which was well worth it,” says Corbi. “In fact, we’re now thinking about putting in permanent backup generators. That would give us complete peace of mind.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYER – ELECTRICAL ENGINEER: SKAE Engineering Solutions.
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