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Taming the Wild Hog: How a Luxury Condo Cut Its Bloated Electric Bill

Ronda Kaysen in Building Operations on January 8, 2013

Trump Tower at City Center, White Plains, Westchester County

Condo Cuts Electric Bill
Jan. 8, 2013

The first thing Gomez did was visit the NYSERDA website to see what tax incentives the building might qualify for and who to hire for the job. He reached out to four NYSERDA-approved energy consultants. Three came for interviews and, of them, Frank Lauricella, director of business development for The Daylight Savings Company, was the most impressive. "Frank took the most time going through what it would be like," says Gomez. "Other folks didn't seem to be as thorough."

In April 2007, Lauricella made an initial presentation to the board. His plan would begin with an energy audit, a review of the building's entire energy usage to find the root of the energy problem. "Not all the board was convinced," say Gomez. "We wanted to make sure we weren't throwing good money after bad." By the end of the meeting, however, the board gave Lauricella the green light to evaluate the building.

The 20 Percent Solution

In order to qualify for the NYSERDA funding, the building had to reduce its usage by 20 percent. So, as part of the process, Lauricella input his findings into a computer program that provided various solutions. If the building added energy-saving covers to the pools, how much would that save? If it replaced lighting in the garage, what would that save? He played with variables to come up with a proposal that would cut down the usage enough without costing the building more than the savings.

Lauricella delivered to Gomez a list of recommendations, suggesting the building change its lighting and install a cogeneration plant (called "combined heat and power," or CHP). With CHP, the building could generate some of its own electricity and use the excess heat for the building.

Several skeptical board members visited three residential buildings in the area with CHP plants to see how they worked. Ultimately, Gomez and the board agreed to many of the measures, including the CHP and the common lighting changes. Other measures, like solar panels, were rejected because the payback wasn't worth the investment.

The Common Touch

One big step was to update the lighting in the common areas, which were drastically over-lit. But since removing the excess lights would be a major expense and renovation, the building instead put half of the lights on motion sensors that shut off when no motion was detected. Lights in the stairwells were placed on timers. Usage dropped by 50 percent. After the changes, the electricity bill in the garage alone dropped from $3,000 a month to $1,400.

"You can very easily reduce your energy usage in corridors by over 90 percent. Corridors will be just as safe and just as bright," says Ian Shapiro, owner of Taitem Engineering, a lighting expert who reviewed the Trump Tower project for NYSERDA.

The building also took energy-saving steps the other co-op and condo boards can as well. It added solar thermal covers to the swimming pools; installed exhaust fan timers; adjusted boiler and temperature controls; and made improvements to the ventilation system.

The building now saves 

more than $400,000 a year.

The project took a year to complete and was finished by the end of 2009. Residents and condo board members were updated periodically with memos and notices about the changes. In all, the improvements cost the building $928,000. They funded most of it with a low-interest $700,000 loan from NYSERDA. Because the loan had an interest rate of 3.4 percent, the board decided to spread payments out over seven years.

The payback on the project, however, was less than four years. Trump Tower received $287,160 in NYSERDA rebates after the work was finished, and Lauricella received 22 percent of the rebate as his commission.

The building now saves more than $400,000 a year. Says Gomez: "It turned out great for us. It really worked out." 


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