During the recent citywide blackout, most everyone found themselves somewhere in the dark, and the city's co-ops and condos were no exception. The 24-hour crisis left nearly everyone in New York's five boroughs (and much of the Northeast) asking this question: Where were you when the lights went out? For most of us, the answer was simple: stuck. But if your building had a co-generation system, the answer might have been, "I was in my air-conditioned living room, drinking iced tea and watching news coverage of the blackout on television." Buildings with partial or full co-generation systems at least had some chance of providing energy to their residents throughout the crisis. And if your building decides to turn to co-generation, perhaps you won't be left in the dark if there's ever a sequel to Blackout 2003.
According to Robert L. Silverstein, president of Chelsea's Penn South co-op complex in Manhattan, "It was the idea of conservation and producing our own energy, and the savings of money for the cooperators by producing our own energy that initially interested us in co-generating."
Rising utility costs and the potential for power loss during peak energy-use times are two very big reasons some buildings have asked themselves if there isn't a better way to provide residents with power. While most co-ops and condos generally depend on at least one of the major energy suppliers in the city, that's not the only option. For buildings that no longer want to rely solely on their local energy service company (ESCO) for juice, co-generation may be the answer.
According to Walter Mankoff, Penn South's board treasurer and co-chair (along with Silverstein) of the co-op's co-generation committee, "We were spending nearly a third of our annual budget on fuel and utilities. As it turned out, we converted, and had been paying Con Ed $1.5 million a year, and buying fuel for another $1.5 million a year. After the conversion, the total bill was $1.5 million. In other words, no increase in the fuel bill, and we were no longer paying $1.5 million to Con Ed. We had all the energy we needed for heating and cooling and so on from our power plant."
What if you could take matters into your own hands - or more specifically, into your own building? A co-generation system does just that, allowing a building to produce some - and possibly all - of its own energy. Not only does it save money, but it's environmentally friendly as well. But before jumping into it however, there are several factors to consider.