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The Problem: Late to the Game



The Problem: Late to the Game

The countdown to 2030, when carbon-emission fines really kick in, has many in a panic. A group of Queens co-ops latched on to NYSERDA’s FlexTech program as a starting point.


Mark Balsam, President, ReDocs, as told to Habitat


Many in the co-op and condo community are overwhelmed by the challenges posed by Local Law 97, and they’re unaware of what fines may hit them in the future. You recently experienced this with a group of buildings in Queens.


These six-story apartment buildings came to us in a panic — not unlike a lot of buildings coming to us now — saying, “Do Local Law 97 for us.” We suggested a step-by-step process, first looking at their benchmarking and then doing a penalty analysis to see if they were exposed to any fines under this new carbon emissions law. Then we could talk about actually spending money on energy audits and upgrades, if necessary.


We directed them to NYSERDA’s FlexTech program, which funds buildings to do energy studies. What it really wants is for you to do a low-carbon capital planning study and look at emissions-saving measures — in particular, to ways to electrify the building. The idea is that within the next decade, the grid will be powered by renewable energy sources, and electrification is the most emissions-friendly way to run your building.


How does the program work? 


NYSERDA will fund up to 75% of the study, up to $100,000 or 2% of a building’s annual energy expenditure. For smaller buildings, it sets the cap at $10,000. You apply, provide a budget and a scope of work, and then start researching your building. That includes whether you have the electrical capacity for converting to heat pumps, and if not, what it would cost to bring it in.


The study is similar to a regular energy audit. You look at certain measures and their projected energy usage, emissions, and cost savings, as well as the cost of implementing them and your return on investment to see whether they make financial sense. That’s really the motivation behind the program. 


Would this particular group of Queens buildings be taking any steps if they felt they would not be facing fines?


I’m not sure that they would. A lot of buildings really are motivated by the compliance side of things, and if you can show them that there are savings from doing something, they will certainly do it. So Local Law 97 has kind of given a push that maybe they wouldn’t have had before. The roadblock has always been the cost of compliance. But with this step-by-step process and the NYSERDA program, buildings can explore their options in a relatively inexpensive way and then make decisions on what to invest in. 


Does converting major components to different energy sources make sense for boards in terms of the costs of their operations?


Before we even go down the path of a NYSERDA-funded audit, we’re often able to have a pretty in-depth conversation with clients about the low-hanging fruit, without having to do a whole assessment. Since we know a lot about our clients’ buildings from their benchmarking data if they’ve gone through Local Law 87, there’s a lot of things we can advise them about — things that they can and should do, like pipe insulation, steam balancing and boiler upgrades, all of which can really move the needle in terms of reducing energy usage and costs for the building.


I think we’re still a ways out on this push towards electrification, but it’s good to be exploring it, because this seems to be where the city and state are headed. So it’s a question of what it will cost to upgrade the electrical service and how invasive it’s going to be to put in heat pumps in place of a steam boiler. Those are the things we look at in the study. But I do think it’s quite an expense, and it hasn’t played out in high enough numbers in the city that we can make any real conclusions yet.

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