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Co-op Boards Built Consensus, Then Became Energy Pioneers

Frank Lovece in Green Ideas on May 3, 2019

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Grandes Dames III

The El Dorado, a Central Park West co-op with cutting-edge battery technology (photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio).

May 3, 2019

The Beresford and the El Dorado are a pair of prewar jewels on Central Park West designed by the famed architect Emery Roth. They’re also forward-thinking energy pioneers, whose co-op boards have installed energy-saving LED lights, cogen power plants, and other upgrades. Now, these imposing co-ops are stepping into the future of energy efficiency by installing battery energy-storage systems, known as BESS. 

A battery energy-storage system can be fed either from the Con Edison electrical grid, solar panels on the roof, or a cogen plant in the basement. It then releases the electricity for use during peak-demand periods, when electricity costs the most. Result: reduced electricity bills. 

But before the leaders on these boards could move forward with these farsighted projects, they had to build a consensus among their fellow board members to spend the necessary money up front. Was it hard to build that consensus? 

“Cogen was vigorously debated by our seven-member facilities committee, made up of board members and other shareholders, and it was unanimously endorsed,” says Cathy Klema, president of the El Dorado’s board. That recommendation went to the full board, which reached consensus to approve. “I provide a community letter to shareholders every quarter, and cogen has been heavily covered in that.” 

It was a little tougher at the Beresford. Board president John Phufas says, “Boards for the most part are composed of individuals who often lack real-world business experience, so they look to management companies for guidance. Management companies are good at collecting maintenance and paying bills, but most have little expertise in transforming to a 21st-century industry. I think there’s a real need to educate board members throughout the city.” 

Phufas adds that educating his fellow directors involved a process: “Doing your homework, producing accurate spreadsheets, giving them expert testimony. Before you convince them, you have to educate them.” 

Once educated, the boards of these storied co-ops quit making excuses and became energy pioneers. Other boards can now follow the trail they blazed. In terms of both environmental conservation and money in the bank, that trail leads to a place that is very bright green.

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