It Can Make it There: Cogeneration Doing the Job in The Big Apple

A lot has happened on the cogeneration front in New York City during the past few weeks. From the perspective of proponents, the news is a mix of positive and negative.

This week, The New York City Energy Efficiency Corp. announced a $6.75 million loan for an energy efficiency and cogen project at the Cipriani Club Residences. The building, which is on Wall Street in lower Manhattan, is a National Historic Landmark. The 8.3 million investment is aimed at reducing energy consumption “and related emissions” by 42 percent and cutting energy costs in half. That, the press release says, will save $900,000 annually. The description of cogeneration in the release is good:

The project centers around a 750kW combined heat and power (CHP or cogeneration) system, which will generate electricity onsite and use excess heat from the process for heating and cooling. With onsite generation, CHP offers the building’s residents resiliency in the event of outages, important in a neighborhood that was flooded after Hurricane Sandy. Cost reduction and energy efficiency measures include new lighting, elevator upgrades, natural gas boilers, and reliable, energy-saving variable frequency drives for major equipment.

It seems that the concentration on The Big Apple is no accident: Both the state of New York and the City are pushing the technology. National Real Estate Investor Online offers some numbers, courtesy of  New York State Energy Research and Development Authority Senior Program Director Ed Kear:

States like New York offer grants or other incentives for installation. For example, grants from NYSERDA typically cover about 40 percent of the total cost to buy and install CHP systems. The grants are worth $1,800 per kilowatt in New York City and $1,500 per kilowatt in other parts of New York State, up to a maximum grant of $2.5 million. With the incentive, systems tracked by NYSERDA typically pay for themselves in just three to six years, says Kear.

The story says that the state is tracking the use of a 300 KW cogen platform that was installed at the Avalon West Chelsea, a luxury building in Manhattan.

Another project is being run by The New York City Housing Authority in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Microgrid Knowledge reports that the NYCHA is seeking proposals for a cogeneration plant that will serve 28 buildings in which 6,300 people live. The project – called The Red Hook Houses District Energy System – could become part of Red Hook Community Microgrid. That project was a $100,000 winner of a New York Prize competition. The two deadlines for proposals are July 22 and September 9.

The city is involved in a 28-acre, $25 billion project to expand midtown Manhattan westward to land along the Hudson River that had served as a huge railyard. Commercial and residential tenants are starting to move into one of the towers. The power structure of the project will rely heavily on cogeneration. Utility Dive, citing reporting from The Wall Street Journal, says that two plants will produce about 60 percent of the area’s power and feed microgrids that are being created as part of the project.

Not all the cogeneration stories will make proponents happy, however.

One of the pieces of bad news had nothing directly to do with cogeneration, however. Politico reported that the expiration of a tax incentive has led a developer, the Durst Organization, to drastically scale down a project in Queens. The project, in an area known as Hallets Point, was to include more than 2,000 housing units and cost $1.5 billion. The original plan included three natural gas-fed cogeneration facilities. The story says that the restructured project eliminates the buildings that would house two of the three plants. Building one, however, would be too expensive so it, too, was eliminated.

Finally, a cogeneration system at Rochdale Village, a complex in Jamaica, Queens, went down last month. The platform is not connected to the grid, according to The New York Daily News. Thus, all power stopped flowing when electric surge took the plant off line. Rochdale Village, which has about 25,000 residents, has lost power three times during the past three years, the story said.

It is not surprising that cogeneration is making progress. It is attractive for a number of interrelated reasons. The most compelling simply is that by capturing and reusing energy that formerly wasted, cogeneration reduces energy use on an apples-to-apples basis. The approach also is the recipient of utility rebates and tax breaks. The rebates are pushed by regulators and utilities’ desire to reduce peak and overall demand and thus reduce the need to build plants. The approach works well with microgrids and other increasingly popular distributed energy platforms. Finally, the simple “waste not, want not” common sense of cogeneration makes it popular with the public.

Cogeneration clearly is a big part of the power profile of New York City. Its use in the huge Hudson Yards project, in particular, clearly suggests that it is seen as reliable and economical. And – with the exception of what appears to be a poorly designed and antiquated system at Rochdale Village, it appears to be doing the job in The Big Apple.

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