Green Savings and Incentives

Going for the Greenbacks

By Liz Lent

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 In an era of tight budgets and growing green consciousness, more co-op and condo  communities than ever before are moving toward energy conservation and  sustainable resources. For those residential buildings lucky enough to stand  tall in New York, an extraordinary number of resources exist for them to make  drastic changes to the way they consume energy, including education, training,  networking and even financial assistance available through a broad network of  green organizations and programs.  

 According to The Wall Street Journal’sMetropolis blog, a recent survey examining the sustainability practices and  policies of American and Canadian cities ranked New York third behind Vancouver  and San Francisco, which took top honors. The study cited New York’s “environmentally sound transportation system and land-use regime” as tops among all 27 cities surveyed.  

 With New York quickly gaining attention as a leader in green living, there may  be no better time for the city’s thousands of co-op and condo buildings to join the movement and begin  conserving energy–and saving money–now.  

 Finding the Right Partner

 Perhaps the most comprehensive resource available to boards and individuals  interested in learning more about how they can save money and conserve  resources in their homes is the New York State Energy Research and Development  Authority (NYSERDA). The organization has a number of programs available for  multifamily buildings, which they define as having five units or more.  According to the website, the goal is to use NYSERDA’s “portfolio of programs and incentives…to amp up the performance of your building, by providing access to programs that  fund, implement and measure energy efficiency to improve building performance  and your bottom line.”  

 According to NYSERDA Project Manager Ryan Moore, “We have a number of portfolio programs for multifamily buildings. One of the  most effective is the New York Energy $mart Multifamily Performance Program  (MPP).” The program makes use of a network of technology partners, including engineers  and energy consultants, to evaluate and benchmark the energy performance of a  building. Depending on how they fare versus other similar buildings, they are  assigned a performance target to achieve. By putting together an Energy  Reduction Plan and putting that plan into action, the building becomes eligible  for NYSERDA incentives, which vary by building and project size. NYSERDA also  can provide access to lenders who will help finance these renovation plans at  an exceptionally low cost.  

 “Our consultants will look at an entire building and do an audit and find a way  to reduce that building’s energy consumption by 15 percent,” Moore says. “They start with the mechanical room and look at everything from the boiler to  insulation to common area lighting. Basically, we look at any energy-intensive  areas in a building.”  

 The program, says Moore, launched in 2006 and so far, more than 1,000 projects  have been completed with 3,400 existing buildings and 215 new construction  buildings participating.  

 The Green Jobs / Green New York Multifamily Building Energy Efficiency Financing  Program provides loans to owners of multifamily buildings in order to encourage  the installation of equipment that will result in energy savings. Loans are  available for a wide variety of cost-effective improvements. In order for  energy improvements to be eligible for financing using a GJ/GNY Loan, building  owners must first receive an energy audit from NYSERDA’s Multifamily Performance Program. Additional incentives to help pay for audits and the installation of  improvements are provided through the Multifamily Performance Program found at  www.nyserda.org/multifamily.  

 For buildings that do not have the funds currently to tackle large scale  renovation or upgrade projects, NYSERDA also will provide simply the  benchmarking portion of the program at no cost along with a list of no- or  low-cost actions for conservation. At the same time, this benchmarking “can help them comply with Local Law 84,” Moore says, referring to the law signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in December  2009 mandating annual energy and water benchmark reports for privately owned  buildings over 50,000 square feet in size.  

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 Once a building sees the amount of energy, and consequently, cost that could be  saved by following the free recommendations, “they usually want to take part,” Moore says. Currently, NYSERDA is seeing an uptick in the number of  applications for this program. Funding for the benchmarking and recommendations  is limited, however, meaning boards and management interested in taking part  should get involved as soon as possible.  

 NYSERDA is also offers cash incentives to multifamily buildings for installing  advanced submeters. Through the Electric Reduction in Master Metered Buildings  (ERMM) Program, NYSERDA will provide up to 50 percent of the cost for buildings  to install advanced meters, says Moore. “It’s really geared to co-ops and other market rate buildings,” Moore says. “Boards understand that this is really a way to save money.”  

 According to the NYSERDA site, “advanced submetering technology now allows residents to control their own energy  use with real-time data and take advantage of smart grid opportunities, ideally  only using energy when prices are at their lowest and conserving when prices  peak.”  

 “When people are paying their own energy bill,” adds Moore, “they’re more mindful. This way, people can control their own meters.”  

 Programs such as these “take champions to sell them to boards and shareholders,” Moore says. Often, projects are slow to take off in the city simply because of  the time it takes to go through boards and other governing processes.  

 NYSERDA also provides incentives for residents to upgrade their appliances,  replacing existing models with high-efficiency Energy Star products, designed  specifically to reduce energy use.  

 Collective Efforts

 The efforts undertaken by individual residential buildings to reduce energy  consumption and work toward a greener future are mirrored in the number of  city-wide initiatives launched by municipal and non-municipal groups throughout  the city. Perhaps the most ambitious effort is PlaNYC, which is administered  through the Mayor’s Office and brings together more than 25 city agencies to do everything from  conserve parks to improve mass transit to creating more than 64,000 units of  green housing. To date, the plan seems to have been effective – according to the PlaNYC website, the city has reduced its greenhouse gas  emissions 13 percent below its 2005 levels.  

 In his weekly radio address earlier this year, Mayor Bloomberg underscored his  belief in the power of city initiatives and individual efforts to effect the  greatest change. “Our PlaNYC successes have shown how important it is for government to make big  investments in a greener future, such as the nearly completed Third Water  Tunnel, the extension of the Number 7 Subway line, and the waste water system  upgrades that have made our rivers and bays cleaner than they have been in a  century. But equally important are the investments and actions of individuals.  We cannot underestimate the collective power of more than 8 million New Yorkers  greening their homes, businesses, and neighborhoods.”  

 Knowledge Saves Money, Energy

 That collective effort is at the heart of another building-focused initiative:  NYC Green House, which is run by the New York City Department of Housing  Preservation & Development in conjunction with The Community Preservation Corporation.  

 This education-based program offers visitors to the website a tool kit for  saving money by reducing energy and water consumption and being mindful of the  materials used in building in renovation. “It’s meant to be a resource of information for people who are green about being  green,” says Sadie McKeown, senior vice president of The Community Preservation  Corporation (CPC) and one of the prime motivators behind NYC Green House. “We have stakeholders throughout the city, including lenders, who have been  trying to help buildings get more green. For the city, it’s about reducing carbon. For people, it’s about saving money. We really need to educate people on how to make that  possible.”  

 One way to do that is to help co-op and condo buildings see the benefits of  installing new electricity meters, upgrading their boilers or adding  insulation. McKeown says, “The CPC tries to get people (and boards) to think about those changes during  refinancing. It’s the least expensive way to get the money to invest (in those renovations), and  it’s a time when they should be looking at the long term. It’s a time to look at energy efficiency as part of the overall plan for and  well-being of the building.”  

 One of the things that stops boards and individual unit owners from doing more  to green their buildings is simply a lack of understanding on what is available  to them and what the benefits are of change. “The underlying issue is awareness,” McKeown says. They may expect too much, too soon from the changes they have  made to their buildings or units. “People are suspect about energy efficiency,” she adds.  

 Board members and unit owners don’t have to make drastic changes to reap the benefits of energy efficiency. “ Lighting is certainly among the lowest hanging fruit in terms of the fastest  payback,” said Michael Weisberg, a principal at M-Core Credit Corporation in Montebello,  N.Y. “ Modern heating control systems are also very effective for many buildings and  rank down among the simpler and lower costs items. Converting boilers or  replacing them to have the ability to burn natural gas instead of oil is very  much in demand today.”  

 Educational efforts are key to helping people better understand what can be  achieved and how to make it happen. On the NYC Green House website, visitors  can look at four key areas of interest: energy, water, materials and community.  The energy section, for example, offers buildings tips on energy conservation  measures they can share with their residents and at the same time, provides  links and connections to rebates, incentives and tax credits that the board and  management can use to improve the bottom line.  

 The city’s Departments of Environmental Protection and Housing Preservation and  Development are also attempting to put their own education initiatives into  place. Their Water Conservation Seminars for Building Managers, for example, is  a free series of three-hour classes on water conservation, water and sewer  billing and the transition to metered billing.  

 GreenHomeNYC also provides assistance to buildings and boards to help them  become more green. Since 2002, GreenHomeNYC has been connecting New York City  residents with local experts and actionable information to help them improve  the energy and environmental performance of their homes and buildings. Their  House Calls program offers free information sessions to co-op and condo boards.  For information, contact them at http://greenhomenyc.org.  

 Taken together, the measures undertaken by NYSERDA, PlaNYC, NYC Green House and  GreenHomeNYC and numerous other municipal and non-municipal agencies throughout  the city are gradually transforming the way New Yorkers live.  

 For co-op and condo buildings, there likely has never been a better time to get  involved and take advantage of the incentives designed specifically to help  them make the transition to the new, green age. By putting into place just a  couple measures at a time, boards don’t have to tackle all projects at once. “It is important for buildings and their managers to proactively prepare a ‘Road Map to Energy Efficiency and Savings,’”Weisberg says. “ They do not need to do everything at once, but with a plan they can implement  measures over time.”  

 Although the initial investment in infrastructure, equipment and materials may  seem steep, with the proper balance of incentives and long-term savings, the  effort will ultimately save money and save the environment.    

 Liz Lent is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.

 

 

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