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Long Struggle Leads to Greening of Executive Plaza Condos

Adam Janos in Bricks & Bucks on October 18, 2017

Midtown, Manhattan

Plaza Cogen

The Executive Plaza's new cogeneration system is saving serious money on energy (image via Google Maps)

Oct. 18, 2017

The Executive Plaza’s six-year ordeal is finally over. When this 445-unit condominium in midtown Manhattan fired up its new cogeneration system in September, the condo board could bask in the satisfaction that it was being kind to the environment while shaving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from the cost of powering and heating the 22-story, pre-war building. 

Their ordeal began way back in 2011. That’s when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned No.6 heating oil, the polluting fuel that powered Executive Plaza’s aging boilers. Building owners still using No. 6 were put on notice to switch to No. 4 oil or an equivalent cleaner fuel by 2015, or be in violation of city regulations. 

To comply with the law, the Executive Plaza board started drawing up plans for a cogeneration system – a natural-gas generator that creates electricity for the building while also directing the normally-squandered heat of the machine’s engine (its “waste heat”) to the building’s steam boilers and domestic hot water. But when they requested Con Edison to pump more natural gas into the building, their jaws hit the floor at the quoted price: a little more than $2 million. 

“They said, ‘You want us to bring gas, it’s going to cost you,’” recalls Uri Lev, the condo board’s president. That’s because the utility company would have had to dig up the street and bring in a valve and piping to get the quality and volume of natural gas the massive building was requesting. “It wasn’t something we considered,” Lev says. 

So the gas main and the cogeneration project were put on hold, and the board mulled the options of switching to No. 4 or No. 2 oil. Then, three years later, Con Ed contacted the board and told them they were extending gas to the entire block, thus negating the previous price quote. Now the building could get the needed infrastructure for next to nothing, according to Lev: “Some small stuff, the gas meter, this and that.” 

But Con Ed was only the first obstacle to the greening of Executive Plaza. There were problems with an initial plan drafted by the first engineer hired to do the job. “The pipe sizing, the calculations…everything was incorrect,” says resident manager Mark Richards. “We ended up terminating that contract, but we paid out the initial retainer and a payment or two. It cost the building a few dollars” – and another year’s delay. 

Then there was the challenge of the physical installation. The 7-by-12-foot cogenerator had to be constructed piece by piece in the Executive Plaza’s sub-cellar, with new piping routed to the upper floors through an out-of-use elevator shaft. “It was a process,” says Richards. “A lengthy, tough process.” 

And it wasn’t cheap. Even with a $450,000 New York State Research and Development Authority grant, the board had to come up with $1.15 million, which they raised by assessing the four elements of the building: 60 percent came from the condominium’s unit-owners; 30 percent came from the hotel that occupies the lower half of the building; and the remaining 10 percent came from the building’s two restaurants. 

The money was well spent. Since the cogen system went online this fall, Richards says it’s producing energy for half of the building’s heat and domestic hot water needs. And Lev believes the system will save about $180,000 a year in total energy costs, which means it will pay for itself in less than seven years. After that, it’s money in the condo’s coffers. 

“I would enthusiastically approve this project again,” Lev says, “not only because of the savings, but because the building is green now.” After a pause, he adds, “If we’d had the space on our roof for a panel, we would’ve gone solar.” 

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – RESIDENT MANAGER: Mark Richards. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: PowerGen Development Group. ENGINEERS: CRC Engineering and Enk Solutions. PLUMBING: Basco Mechanical. ELECTRICAL: Weise Electrical.

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