Bill Morris in Green Ideas on August 18, 2022
Many New York City co-op and condo boards are scrambling to reduce their buildings’ carbon emissions because they have to — if they want to avoid stiff fines beginning in 2024 under Local Law 97. But Rebecca Fenton, board president at one of the 15 co-ops in the century-old Greystone Apartments development in Jackson Heights, Queens, is pushing to cut carbon emissions because it’s the right thing to do — not only morally, but also financially.
“I’m doing it because it has to be done for the health of our city and because we have a responsibility to take care of the planet,” says Fenton, who works for the consultancy LC Three as an owner’s representative on construction projects. “This makes sense,” she adds, “and it makes our buildings function better. Electric heat pumps that heat and cool a building make much more sense than fossil fuel-fired boilers. This does make financial sense in the long term because we’re going to have a more diversified power grid.”
Fenton’s 15-unit co-op is not affected by Local Law 97 because it’s smaller than 25,000 square feet. Nevertheless, she joined a grassroots neighborhood organization called the Queens Climate Project, and she now heads its Green Buildings Task Force. In keeping with the group’s philosophy, Fenton is in conversation with neighborhood co-ops about pooling resources to install solar panels on all their roofs at once — a move that would not be economically feasible if each co-op tried to go it alone.
Fenton joined the Queens Climate Project before the pandemic hit, and since then she has learned that it’s filling a vital need. “We found that people throughout the neighborhood are motivated to lower their carbon footprint and take advantage of incentives,” she says, “but it can be overwhelming trying to figure it out on your own.”
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The Queens Climate Project has hosted webinars connecting neighbors to the NYC Accelerator, which offers free consultants, and to guide books put out by Building Energy Exchange that help boards prioritize capital projects. Fenton’s task force is participating in an in-person forum in October called “Grassroots Retrofit” that will guide boards through the maze of available carbon-cutting retrofits — and ways to pay for them.
“It’s become a combination of sharing information, education and a network of support,” Fenton says. “People are excited about improving their buildings, but they’re frustrated about how to make it happen. There’s great technology out there, but how do I actually implement it?”
The group’s website — queensclimateproject.org — is a smorgasbord of news, resources and calls to action. It includes an account of the successful fight to defeat a proposed fracked-gas power plant in Astoria, Queens, as well as granular information on solar and geothermal energy, composting, ways to optimize single-pipe steam systems, pending legislation and ways to contact state legislators. (The project is on Twitter at @queens_climate and on Instagram at queensclimateproject.)
“We’re just a bunch of volunteer climate activists,” says Anthony Ng, a shareholder in a Jackson Heights co-op who has been involved in the Queens Climate Project since its inception in 2019. “We’ve worked with other coalitions, including New York Renews and Climate Can’t Wait. Our goal is to get our neighbors and other climate groups involved and plugged in.”
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