Ronda Kaysen in Building Operations on August 27, 2013
The project was far from simple: It cost the co-ops $6 million and involved shutting down the George Washington Bridge so a six-ton boiler could be driven across. But long before the 32-foot-long boiler crossed the Hudson River under cover of night, Jacob had to convince co-op boards to go along with his plan, get Con Edison to extend a 500-foot gas line to the mechanical room and build a new foundation to support that giant blue boiler.
It helps that Jacob has friends in high places — including New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who lives in Hillman Housing (formally, Hillman Housing Corp.) and attends the same orthodox synagogue, The Bialystoker on Willet Street. Silver facilitated a meeting between Co-op Village and Con Ed after the building hit a wall trying to get information about cost savings from the utility company.
"Speaker Silver was able to get us in a room with Con Ed," says Richard Valcich, a board member at East River Housing who was vice president of the board during the time. Did it help that Jacob and Silver were friends? "I think he would have done it for any of his constituents," he says.
200,000 Gallons at a Time
For years, the price of oil had consumed Jacob (right). On a small television in his office, tuned to CNBC, he would watch the ticker running across the bottom that reported incremental changes in the price of oil. Jacob would wait until the dog days of August, when prices were at their lowest, to lock in oil contracts for 200,000 gallons at a time. "When you're buying 2 million gallons, a few cents make a difference," he explains.
When the co-ops burned No. 6 oil, 300 trucks a year would bring oil to the boiler room, idling in the street in front of a public school. In the winter, two or three trucks would traverse the congested Grand Street corridor every day with fuel for the complex. Last winter, only two trucks delivered oil.
"Just having [fewer] trucks going through the neighborhood with a school across the street is good for the environment," says Marc Karell, president of Climate Change & Environmental Services, the construction and environmental manager for the project.
Now that the co-ops have converted to a dual-fuel system, the boilers generally run on natural gas. But the mechanical room stores two 40,000 gallon tanks of No. 2 heating oil so it can switch to oil heat on an hour's notice if Con Ed requests it. Con Ed provides a discount to customers that use dual-fuel because it reduces the burden on the grid, allowing the utility company to triage when natural gas demand is high.
To see how Jacob convinced skeptical co-op boards to make the change, read Part 2.
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