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The Right Way to Switch to LED Lights

Bill Morris in Green Ideas on June 13, 2017

Upper East Side

Alluring LEDs
June 13, 2017

When trying to make a building more energy-efficient, it’s tempting to go after the so-called “low-hanging fruit.” For instance, get the super to remove the outdated incandescent light bulbs in all common areas and replace them with state-of-the-art light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs and – voilà! – watch your electricity bill go down. Dumb move.

The board at a 35-unit co-op on the Upper East Side resisted this temptation and instead followed the Con Edison playbook for a building-wide lighting upgrade. By taking a more holistic approach, the board was able to take full advantage of Con Ed’s numerous incentives and rebates, not only on LED bulbs but also on buying new fixtures and retrofitting existing ones. As a result, the co-op is likely to see a far richer payout than it would have realized by simply plucking the low-hanging fruit. Smart move.

At the Upper East Side co-op, property manager Dawn Dickstein, president of MD Squared Property Group, played by the book. In November 2016, she was contacted by Justin Gillen, founder of a company called Retrofit and Relamp With LEDs, which is one of more than 200 so-called “market partners” certified by Con Ed to oversee lighting and other energy upgrades. This partnership is a requirement for boards to be eligible for the full array of Con Ed benefits and incentives.

“Dawn said she had a building for us to look at,” Gillen recalls. “So I went there and walked through the building with the super and did an audit of the lighting with an app on my phone. We took pictures of the fixtures in the common areas, cataloging types, wattage, how long they’re on. Then we looked at the electric bill to see if they paid the System Benefits Charge (SBC).”

The SBC is a surcharge, proportionate to the size of the electric bill, that’s collected by Con Ed to build up a fund to pay for energy-efficiency upgrades. The vast majority of co-ops and condos pay into the fund, according to a Con Ed spokesman, and the Upper East Side co-op cleared this hurdle. A portion of the SBC is kept by Con Ed, a portion is sent to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and a portion is sent to the State Department of Public Service.

Once Con Ed had pronounced the co-op qualified, Gillen used his data to prepare a cost/benefit analysis, which Dickstein then took to the board. The board agreed to move forward. Gillen then submitted the final proposal to Con Ed, which did its own inspection of the property to corroborate the accuracy of Gillen’s findings.

It’s still too early to tell how much energy – and money – the Upper East Side co-op will save from its switch to LED lighting. “The jury’s out,” says Dickstein, the property manager. “I don’t know what kinds of savings we’ll see, but I don’t think there’s any downside.”

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