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Queens Co-op Goes From “Energy Hog” to Clean Green Machine

Lisa Prevost in Green Ideas on October 22, 2018

Forest Hills, Queens

Capital Planning II
Oct. 22, 2018

At Fairview, a 424-unit co-op in Forest Hills, Queens, the board’s long-range goal was to slash energy spending. Greg Carlson, Fairview’s property manager, recognized as far back as 2008 that the co-op was spending far too much money on fuel – more than $1 million annually. The co-op’s oil-burning boiler was so old that parts had to be specially made when it broke down. And the original chiller was grossly inefficient, consuming significant steam and keeping the boiler running year-round. 

Through his work as an executive with the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives & Condominiums, Carlson was hearing whispers that the city was planning to phase out the burning of No. 6 fuel oil. He figured the timing might be right to act on Fairview’s efficiency problems sooner rather than later and convert from oil to gas. “I saw the handwriting on the wall,” Carlson says. “Because of that, we decided to do it before it got mandated.” 

Working with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Carlson pursued an overall energy-reduction plan. After starting off with one vendor who proved unsatisfactory, Carlson switched to the EN-POWER Group, an energy engineering firm in White Plains, to help implement the plan. 

Like most buildings constructed to 1960’s standards, Fairview was an “energy hog,” says Michael Scorrano, EN-POWER’s managing director and founder. “We looked at it,” he says, “and our eyes opened up wide, saying, ‘Gee there’s certainly a lot of opportunities to save money in this building.’” 

The timing was ideal. The NYSERDA loan terms for multifamily properties were generous at the time, and Fairview financed $1.5 million at a rate of 2 percent. In addition, National Grid was eagerly looking to expand its capacity in the city at that time, so it extended generous incentives for Fairview’s conversion, and even brought the gas lines up 700 feet to the building property. The co-op added two gas boiler burners that can also burn No. 2 oil, if necessary. It also installed a more efficient chiller, separate domestic hot water heaters, and all new interior and exterior lighting

The fuel savings were an eye-opening $333,000 a year. “Because of that, we were able to finance a $1 million rehab to our six elevators,” Carlson says. “At that time, 2009 and 2010, contractors were hungry, so they were willing to take a three-year payout.” 

Next, Carlson wanted to address the building’s electricity costs. He had been talking with EN-POWER about cogeneration, and when it came time to refinance the co-op’s mortgage in 2015, he persuaded the board to borrow enough to cover the roughly $1.5 million cogen project (before rebates). The cogenerator is capable of generating 1.4 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, with an estimated annual energy cost savings of $160,000

Solar was next on the list. Carlson had been eying solar for years, but prices were so high that the payback period was too long to make it worthwhile. By 2016, prices had come down considerably, and there were numerous credits and tax abatements available. This time, the board agreed it was worth tapping into the co-op’s reserves for the roughly $200,000 installation of solar panels. With rebates and an estimated $11,000 annual energy savings, the payback period is seven to eight years. 

“We were fortunate to have a very good group there,” says Scorrano of EN-POWER. “The board wanted to make this project happen, and they were already sold on the idea of energy efficiency and savings.” 

Now, with the tie-in of the cogenerator to the building’s electric grid, Fairview can generate 60 percent of its own electricity.  Carlson estimates that it will translate into annual energy savings of roughly $200,000, on top of the fuel savings. Thanks to long-range planning, Fairview has left behind its past as an “energy hog.”

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