The Bronx is quickly becoming New York’s favorite borough for new multifamily affordable housing developments. Bright Power sat down with Aaron Koffman from The Hudson Companies to dig deeper into why.
(Bright Power) How did Hudson Companies come to develop affordable housing projects in the Bronx after much of the firm’s historic affordable housing development activity had been in Brooklyn?
(Aaron) Hudson’s been around for 31 years now. Early on, we did work with Housing Partnership to build home ownership units in various places all over the city. Hudson built a lot of two story walk-ups, low-rises, side-by-side kind of developments that were 80-100 units, in the Bronx, Brownsville and even in Fort Greene. It was a great way to bring stability to the communities, since in many cases the land was vacant or underutilized. Then Hudson took its focus toward market-rate housing in the late 1990’s and 2000’s. We did a lot of deals in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
I came on board in 2008 and ever since we’ve focused more heavily on affordable housing. Personally, I really wanted to get us back in the Bronx. The Bronxchester RFP was announced in 2013, and we loved the site. It was mostly vacant, in a great neighborhood next to the subway and all the shopping. And so we went after it, and formed the team for La Central. Thankfully we won and have been going to the Bronx ever since.
Where we can do great work in the Bronx, we would love to do it. Of course, theBronx has become very hot so now there are areas of the Bronx that are not affordable for affordable housing, which is a problem. So we’ve known about it, and then should’ve done more, didn’t do enough, and now we’re back doing a lot.
La Central, 430 Westchester Avenue, Bronx, NY
(Bright Power) How does developing affordable housing in the Bronx differ from other areas of New York City?
(Aaron) From an economic perspective, the difference is very minor, if at all, between affordable housing in the Bronx and affordable housing in Brooklyn. Taking the economics out, there are more cases where the Bronx has better train access. We were focusing on Brooklyn so the Bronx feels new to Hudson – even if some of our fellow developers have been doing great work in the Bronx for years.
I like that it’s new to us. We keep trying to do more deals in Queens, but for one reason or another it hasn’t worked out, and so the Bronx is still sexy. Though, we love all of our boroughs equally, I love the community groups, elected officials, the incredible amount of pride, and the people and their stories in the Bronx.
(Bright Power) What role does the Mayor’s housing plan play in the increased attention on affordable housing development in the Bronx?
(Aaron) I think it’s always important when government makes a statement that they want to invest in communities. There’s an energy there that trickles down to the agencies and staff level where clearly, when the Mayor does make it a priority, the City does its best to execute that priority. For that reason, it’s great that Mayor de Blasio has made it more of a priority to put more investment into the Bronx and so has the Borough President, Ruben Diaz Jr.
The Borough President tells a great story about how his son just graduated from college, and he and his friends moved to upper Manhattan but he wants him to move back to the Bronx. He wants his Bronx kid back in the Bronx, working as an engineer and living in the Bronx, and his son wants to be there. So the Borough President is really championing investment in the Bronx, and the Mayor is too. And so everything kind of follows suit with that energy, that’s a lot of tailwind for us.
I do think the City showed their cards a little early regarding the Jerome Avenue rezoning and brought some speculators into the market that drove land cost up considerably. Not trying to criticize the administration, but that seems to be what happened. Now you have market-rate developers like Chetrit who does great work but, in the South Bronx? You know what I mean: all of a sudden, where you wouldn’t have seen a market-rate developer, there they are.
(Bright Power) Congratulations on your success on winning the Spofford RFP! What do you think differentiated your proposal for the local officials, community and the City to choose your team?
(Aaron) Obviously I can’t speak as to how we were selected, but we crafted a team for The Peninsula that was first and foremost of the Bronx. We have incredible community partners, including Urban Health Plan – one of the largest employers in the South Bronx – and The Point CDC. And I think the great retailers, in part, joined our team because of our community partners, including Spring Bank, which already has a few branches in the Bronx, and a supermarket. We can activate it at night, because Hunts Point Brewery and Bascom Catering will be there and we can cater events in our open area. We want to try to bring more people in; it’s about inclusivity.
On the development side, I love our team. Our non-profit partner, MHANY, owns many properties across the street on Spofford so they know the neighborhood and certainly have expertise in affordable housing. Hudson brings even more expertise in affordable housing and ULURPs. Gilbane has an incredible depth – they’ve been around for 130 years as a construction company and are trying to expand their New York development. And I will give a shout out to the architects BLA and WXY – they did a beautiful job designing the project. We’ve all been there before, even on the non-profit side. And when you put it all together, that’s what made us so attractive.
(Bright Power) Do you think that implementing sustainable design strategies was a big differentiator?
(Aaron) I do, it’s about sustainability, there’s no question, and it’s also about resiliency. I don’t know if Hurricane Sandy resonates in the Bronx as much as it does in Brooklyn or the Rockaways, but resiliency plays a role.
We’re in a different world where people are more cognizant of their utility use. People understand that power is polluting. Community leaders want to see that their neighborhood has the most sustainable and resilient development in the area. I’ve heard many elected officials boast about the green elements of these projects. And it is meaningful to people. I have talked to tenants of ours on other projects; they’re happy to brag about this.
At Hudson, it’s not just about us saying that we’re about the sustainable stuff, it’s that we’ve actually done it before. We know solar, passive house, cogen, and yet we still want to do one better. Also, we’re sustainable in a smart way – affordable housing depends on finite resources and we must weigh cost premiums to make sure we are doing it in an intelligent fashion.
(Bright Power) Hudson Companies was one of the first affordable housing developers to commit to implementing solar energy on their affordable housing projects. How has your view of solar energy changed over the years?
(Aaron) We’ve gone from solar being an interesting idea to solar being a no-brainer. We’ve done some great work with Bright Power in the solar and sustainability department, and the economics have only supported more investment in solar. It saves the development money, which makes the project more sustainable and allows us to put more investment back into the development.
I wish at Dumont Green we’d done a bigger solar project. Still, we’re putting in-ground and tree lighting to enhance security at night, which could happen, in part, because we’re taking electricity savings and putting it back into the building.
We see solar success every day at Gateway. I hear from a lot of Gateway tenants how proud they are when they drive down Flatlands Avenue and they see all the solar arrays up on Elton Street and they know that they live there. They are very proud that it feels state of the art. To reach 1 million watts of solar power generated at Gateway was a proud moment for our team.
We were drinking so much Kool-Aid on the solar at Gateway, which The Related Companies was a partner on, that Related has just now installed their own solar array on the Related Gateway mall. A big company like Related is always looking at the bottom line, so for them to buy in on the retail side is quite the testimony for solar.
Gateway Elton Street, Solar PV System
(Bright Power) Have you noticed tangible benefits or received feedback from residents about sustainable design elements of your buildings?
(Aaron) La Central is going to be the first affordable job where we’re doing VRF (variable refrigerant flow) HVAC systems. I’m really excited to move those tenants in, even though it will not be complete until 2020, and have them find out that the air conditioner is remote controlled, it’s already installed, and their windows are as big as possible – you get all the light!
I like to ask our tenants, “You know that new apartment smell, that smell of a freshly painted apartment?” And of course they immediately say yes. Then I tell them, “Yeah, unfortunately that smell is actually bad for you. That’s off-gassing.” When they walk into our apartments, they don’t smell anything. Then, it immediately hits them – oh, these guys are doing it better. Whether it’s no VOC paint, no vinyl, or putting dishwashers in the apartments (major water savers), I see that tenants are happy to be in our developments because we’ve taken steps that give tenants respect. That speaks volumes to how Hudson does business.
(Bright Power) Many of your development projects, including La Central and Spofford, are joint ventures with non-profit housing providers. What do you look for when selecting your development partner/s on a project? Can you describe the benefits they bring to your developments?
(Aaron) Non-profit partners are essential to every affordable job that we’ve done. What do we look for? We want a real partner. We are not an 800 lb. gorilla for-profit developer. We want collaboration. We want feedback and criticism. The non-profits in NYC are incredibly sophisticated, and we want their knowledge to help inform our projects. We look for that feeling of collaboration, competency in a particular field of social service depending on the building program, or general knowledge of services/neighborhood – if we can find all three, the better.
About Aaron Koffman: As Principal, Aaron heads Hudson’s affordable housing pipeline and portfolio totaling over 3,600 units and ~$2 billion in costs. At 797 kW and spanning nine buildings, the Gateway Elton solar project is collectively the largest solar installation on an affordable housing development in New York State. Aaron is the project lead on several large affordable housing/mixed-use new construction developments in the city, including: the 992-unit La Central development in the South Bronx, the 740-unit Spofford Detention Center Redevelopment in Hunts Point, the 659-unit Gateway Elton development in East New York, and a 56-building affordable preservation portfolio in several Brooklyn neighborhoods including Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights.
Prior to joining Hudson, Aaron was a Project Manager with Forest City Ratner Companies, focusing on the 6,400-unit Atlantic Yards (now Pacific Park) residential development. In addition to serving on the Boards of the NYU Furman Center, Coro New York and the Center for Urban Pedagogy), Aaron is an Adjunct Professor of Affordable Housing Finance at NYU. Aaron received a Masters of City Planning degree from MIT and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from UC Berkeley.
Andy McNamara, VP West Coast Operations at Bright Power (left) with Aaron Koffman, Principal at Hudson Companies (right) at Gateway Elton’s solar PV system unveiling.
In an effort to save energy, reduce maintenance costs, and leverage investments in existing building management system, more and more facility managers are beginning to research and deploy fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) software platforms in their facilities.
The 411 on FDD
FDD platforms consist of three major components: a way of acquiring data, a set of algorithms for processing it, and a means of displaying the results. If that sounds similar to a building automation system, don’t be surprised: Most FDD systems are designed as add-ons to an existing building management system, though some standalone platforms do exist. The difference is that, while modern BAS collect and store vast volumes of data, creating actionable results from that data is a time-consuming and difficult task. As anyone who has spent hours poring over building trend charts trying to figure out why they always get a particular alarm at 2 a.m. can tell you, this is a task worth automating. But to really save time and money, FDD systems must accurately identify real problems and provide an easily digestible idea of how to resolve it, if not an outright diagnosis. Getting it right is no easy task.
As with many cutting-edge software products, not everyone means the same thing when they talk about FDD. Generalizations are difficult, as even a single vendor’s FDD product is often infinitely configurable. No two software platforms are identical. At worst, FDD software may be nothing more than a fancy way to create alarms and trend plots, albeit with much more functionality than is built into most BAS.
Trending features can include plotting multiple time series of overlapped data, which may help determine the causes and effects of a problem by plotting one BAS point as a function of another, or plotting a mathematical expression based on multiple BMS points. True FDD systems attempt to detect and diagnose equipment failures by applying a sophisticated rule-base — what a computer scientist would call an “expert system.” Such a rule-base contains both general knowledge (“there should be little to no flow in a chilled water loop if the chilled water pump is off”) and knowledge specific to the facility in which it is deployed (“the chilled water loop delta T should never be greater than 12 degrees F or less than 4 degrees F”). From this embodied knowledge the system can make sophisticated deductions. Some FDD platforms come with this rule-base predefined and uneditable. Others allow users to modify or add to it, though often with a steep learning curve.
When the right steps are taken, FDD can be a huge success, speeding the diagnosis of subtle problems that might otherwise have taken months or years to discover. As FDD becomes a more regular add-on or feature of BAS, and as the costs of hardware and data storage continue to decrease, FDD may see wider and deeper deployment. Operator training and trust, and the ability of FDD software to provide targeted information with explanatory context, will continue to determine the success or failure of future FDD systems.
See full article here.
Over the last few years, energy consumers and building owners have been confronted with several internet and phone scams. An “agent” will impersonate a utility company, or reaches out representing an unqualified Energy Supply Company (ESCO). These methods have been successful, in part, because these agents can be quite convincing and often use energy jargon to appear knowledgeable and reliable.
Identifying the Utility
A New York City client of Bright Power recently received a phone call from someone claiming to represent Con Ed, a local utility company. As our client describes, “We had past experience with Con Ed concerning overdue or misapplied payments. This made the extremely aggressive demand for a $2,000 cash payment to prevent a power shut off in less than an hour, actually sound plausible. Our first response was to seek the immediate and helpful assistance of Bright Power, who quickly investigated and confirmed the paid status of our accounts. The administrative assistant, who received the original call, confirmed thereafter that there was no shutoff pending with Con Ed.”
We were able to quickly identify the scam and avoid a $2,000 false charge. To help protect your business from these claims, here are a few basic red flags:
- Be wary of requests for Tax IDs, credit card numbers, utility account numbers or protected information.
- Question sudden or pressured monetary requests. Utilities and most reputable businesses do not operate this way.
- Verify employee IDs prior to providing information or payment. Con Ed employees, for example, are required to have company IDs accessible.
Buying With a Reputable ESCO
There are many trustworthy Energy Supply Companies (ESCOs) that Bright Power works with that prove to be valued business partners in controlling energy costs. On the other hand, there are many unreliable ESCOs and energy brokers that use tactics that inevitably cause consumers to pay more in the long run.
Recently, a Bright Power client was approached by an ESCO and convinced to sign up for “a great rate for three years” over the phone. The client asked us to review the contract after the fact, and we identified some major issues. Luckily, we were within the three day cancellation window and assisted our client in withdrawing from the costly supply contract. We then locked them into a better rate via a transparent and market-based bid process, resulting in a savings of $18,000 from the original phone contract.
Always be careful with any phone call from an unfamiliar ESCO or energy broker. Unscrupulous agents have been pushing clients to contract their accounts through recorded sales calls and rushed decisions. Some will even enroll the account without your consent, a practice also known as “slamming.”
Pressing pause on an energy purchasing strategy until you feel confident and knowledgeable in your direction will lend to a favorable outcome.
How to Protect Your Accounts
- Designate one or two of your employees, who are well informed, to discuss all energy matters with the utilities or ESCOs.
- Consider using experienced and reliable consultants or brokers that can provide guidance, support, and clarity in this jargon-filled and continuously changing energy supply world.
- Check out Con Ed’s #STOPSCAMS for more helpful information on protecting your energy accounts.
HOW HAS CITYWIDE MULTIFAMILY ENERGY CONSUMPTION CHANGED?
In a recent blog post, we explored how energy consumption varies geographically across New York City using the publicly disclosed Local Law 84 data from 2015. In this follow-up, we look at how energy use has changed in the years that the benchmarking law has been in place. Using publicly disclosed data for the last four years and data provided by the NYC Office of Sustainability for the first two, we are able to assess how the law continues to shape New York City buildings for the better.
Data Cleaning Methodology
In this analysis, we use weather-normalized Source EUI1 as calculated by Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager software, which will just be referred to as “EUI” in the remainder of the blog. Given that the first year’s data (2010) reduces the overall dataset size by over half and is the most suspect in terms of data quality, we opt to instead include only the last five years of energy disclosure data. In addition, we require that buildings have a valid EUI for each of the last five years and remove buildings that vary in their reported square footage by more than 10% between any two years or in their EUI by more than 60%, either of which would indicate that a data entry error is likely. We also remove the top and bottom 1% of EUIs from all years pooled together. This leaves a total of 2,282 multifamily buildings in our dataset.
Change in Median Source EUI
After cleaning the data, we analyze the change in the median EUI over the last five years (see figure below), fitting it with an ordinary least squares regression. The best fit model implies a decrease in the median EUI of 1.3 kBTU/sqft/yr each year (or 1%/year), with a total decrease in EUI of 5.2 kBTU/sqft/yr over the full 5 years. This linear model has an adjusted r² value of 0.75, indicating a robust fit.
This change in the median EUI can be thought of as how much the average building population is changing its consumption overall. We can also look at the median change in EUI from 2011 to 2015 (6.0 kBTU/sqft/yr or 4.6% over the five-year span), which is more representative of how a typical building has changed over those five years.
Table 1 shows the median EUI for each year. It is important to note that these values vary somewhat from those published in NYC’s Benchmarking reports as the former are derived only from buildings with valid data in all five years.
Table 1. Median Source EUI from 2011-2015
Looking Across All Six Years
If we instead include all six years of data, the decrease in median EUI is a bit larger (1.7 kBTU/sqft/yr/yr), but as noted before, this reduces the overall dataset size by more than half to only 808 buildings. The histogram below shows the distribution of 2015 EUIs for three different data subsets, as well as the median for each subset (vertical dashed lines):
- Buildings with data in years 2012-2015
- Buildings with data in years 2011-2015 (the dataset used throughout this blog)
- Buildings with data in all 6 years
While there is not a large difference in the total number or distribution of EUIs for the first two groups, the subset including only buildings with data in all six years has a much higher median EUI for the overlapping five years (127.8 vs 124.4 for 2015), meaning that buildings that complied in the first year have on average higher EUIs than those that didn’t.
Comparing the Change for the Best and Worst Buildings
We can also see the shift in the EUI over the last five years by looking at the change in the normalized EUI distribution with time. The figure below displays the normalized EUI distribution (from a Kernel-density estimate) for each year, showing that the EUI distribution becomes narrower with a lower median EUI over time.
In order to confirm that this trend is not just year-to-year noise in building consumption, we want to see that the worst buildings are improving significantly and the best buildings are not getting worse. We can see this is the case in Table 2, which shows the median 2011 and 2015 EUIs of buildings in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th quartiles of buildings from the 2011 data.
Table 2. Change in Median Source EUI for 2011 Quartiles
|2011 Median Source EUI (kBTU/sqft/yr)||2015 Median Source EUI (kBTU/sqft/yr)||2011 to 2015 EUI % Difference|
While the buildings in the best quartile have increased their usage by 2%, the remaining 3/4 of buildings have improved, with the worst quartile of buildings decreasing their usage by 10% – suggesting that overall, buildings in NYC are improving.
This reduction in energy consumption can also be evaluated with a paired t-test, comparing the distributions of EUIs in 2011 and 2015, which returns a p-value of 6×10−28, indicating that the distributions of EUIs in those two years are statistically distinct.
Excluding the Impact of Hurricane Sandy
Thus far in this analysis, we have not compensated for the effects of Hurricane Sandy which cut out power to many areas in NYC for weeks in 2012. In the figure below, we remove areas with prolonged outages (Red Hook, The Rockaways and Lower Manhattan) from the dataset and compare the EUI trend between that set and our main dataset.
The ‘Sandy-corrected’ group, which omits heavily affected areas, shows the same trend of decreasing EUI over time, albeit with an even steeper slope (1.45 kBTU/sqft/yr vs 1.3 kBTU/sqft/yr). The median EUI for each year is also slightly lower for the Sandy-corrected group (see Table 3), likely because buildings in lower Manhattan have relatively high EUIs (see interactive map in the following section).
Table 3. Median Source EUI for Sandy-corrected Data
|Median Source EUI
|Median Source EUI
ARE ALL PARTS OF NYC IMPROVING?
We can also explore how this yearly change in EUI varies geographically. Are all boroughs and neighborhoods in NYC improving at the same pace? Are some still getting worse?
2011-2015 Median Source EUI by Community District
The maps below show the median EUI for each NYC community district for each year from 2011 to 2015 as well as the absolute and % difference from 2011 to 2015. You can click on the tabs at the top of the map to switch years, and hover over a community district to see the median EUI and number of buildings.
From these maps we can see that energy consumption has decreased in most regions, and in those districts for which it has increased, there are often less than 10 or 20 buildings included in the dataset, indicating those numbers are likely not as reliable. On average, however, Brooklyn and Queens have improved the most with a median 2011 to 2015 decrease in EUI of 6.6% and 7.1%, whereas Manhattan and the Bronx have only improved by 3.9% and 2.5%, respectively.
WHAT ABOUT THE IMPACT OF LOCAL LAW 87?
From these maps we can see that on average most areas of NYC are decreasing their energy consumption, but we expect to see an even larger decrease for properties that have had to comply with Local Law 87 (requires a building undergo an ASHRAE level II energy audit and subsequent implementation of recommended retro-commissioning measures every 10 years).
Comparison of Properties with and without LL87 Submission
In the figure below we compare NYC buildings that had to comply with Local Law 87 in 2013 and 2014 (based on the block number) with those that did not. While the Local Law 87 buildings have around the same median EUI in the first four years (prior to and during the audit and retro-commissioning period), there appears to be a larger decrease in consumption for those buildings in 2015. Presumably, as data from additional years comes in, these buildings should continue to show improved performance.
ARE BENCHMARKED BUILDINGS BECOMING MORE EFFICIENT?
Based on this analysis of Local Law 84 benchmarking disclosure data from the last five years, energy consumption is decreasing in large multifamily buildings across the city at a rate of 1% per year (or 4% over five years). This is an encouraging trend! Our analysis is similar to the finding from NYC’s most recent Energy and Water Use Report, which reported a 5% decrease in energy consumption for multifamily buildings from 2010 to 2013. While the results differ slightly, it is based on data from different years, and as seen in this blog, the data cleaning process can have a large impact on the overall result, as including or excluding a certain year’s data can significantly change the composition of the dataset.
To summarize, the analysis here suggests that the worst buildings are improving the most, and buildings in Brooklyn and Queens are improving more quickly than those in Manhattan and the Bronx. Data for the most recent year also indicates that buildings complying with Local Law 87 have an even larger decrease in EUI than the rest of the large multifamily building population. Stay tuned as data from subsequent years could strengthen this trend. It’s important to stress that although NYC’s multifamily buildings have been decreasing their energy consumption since the implementation of Local Law 84, there could be many reasons for this besides merely the effect of benchmarking. These may include the effects of Local Law 87, energy prices, building code changes, the phasing out of fuel oil, incentive programs and the cost of rent. On the other hand, a recent paper published by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), suggests that a majority of NYC large multifamily building managers are changing their operating practices and making capital investments in energy efficiency as a result of energy benchmarking. A more detailed analysis could explore the effects of these different factors on the energy consumption trend.
Whatever the myriad reasons for the decrease in energy consumption, this is an ongoing process, which the city needs to continue monitoring each year. Building owners can play their part by tracking their buildings’ consumption on a monthly basis. We all have a role to play and we cannot be passive (unless it’s passive house!) about our actions. Stay tuned for a more detailed analysis from the City, the Urban Green Council and CUSP. If this post has sparked any ideas, interest or questions, please reach out!
1 It is worth noting that in the previous blog post exploring Local Law 84 data, we chose to use Site EUI, since that metric is more representative of how energy is being used at a building, and the goal of that exploration was to compare trends in building characteristics and energy consumption. In this analysis, however, we are using Source EUI, since weather normalized Site EUI is not available in all six years of disclosure data.
Bright Power’s mission is to “improve the comfort, health, and productivity of buildings and their occupants while eliminating their negative impacts on the planet.” It’s a mission that we take seriously and one that draws a lot of smart people who are trying to do right by the planet. But many Bright Ones (our affectionate pet name) not only bring value to our clients and their building portfolios, but also regularly do extra to make the world better.
Since I’m proud of Bright Power and the individuals that comprise our company, indulge me while I brag about my special coworkers.
Karl Haviland, a Senior Software Developer at Bright Power, is involved in Soccer for Charities, an organization started by Karl’s friend Zach Puga to raise awareness and funds for lesser-known nonprofit organizations through the love of soccer. Karl has helped organize and run the event for the past three years. In 2016, Soccer for Charities raised enough money to support two elementary school teachers in Cameroon and provide the class with uniforms through the Benekin Foundation. In past years, Soccer for Charities raised several thousand dollars for Crohn’s Disease and Colitis as well as the Hydrocephalus Association. Bright Power entered a team each of the past three years. In 2016, roughly twenty different Bright Ones participated together with friends and relatives.
In December 2016, Bright Power’s Energy Analysis Team organized the New York office’s participation in the New York Cares’ coat drive for the third year. In total, Bright Power employees donated thirty-eight coats this season.
In February 2017, Bright Power participated in the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s project to estimate the amount and types of food wasted in New York City. As the NRDC’s research proposal explained, “Assessing the amount of food that is wasted – and could potentially have been eaten – along with identifying some of the root causes of why food is wasted is a critical step in helping identify strategies to reduce food waste.” Bright Power participated in this food waste audit to promote research into this sustainability-minded pursuit.
Unrelated to the NRDC study, Bright Power began composting appropriate food waste in 2016. Our New York office currently has four compost bins. Crystal Sun and Stephen Walsh, two members of our Energy Analysis team, deliver roughly 20-30 lbs of our compost per week to GrowNYC’s Food Scrap Composting program via the Bowling Green Tuesday Greenmarket.
In Summer 2016, Bright Power received notice from the NY Department of Sanitation that the recycling laws for businesses were changing. While we always had recycling bins prior, the laws drew our attention to the need to be more diligent. As a sustainability company, we were eager to comply. Once we started paying more attention to our recycling process, however, we noticed that the building maintenance staff would combine our recyclables into their general trash. Mike Battle, Bright Power’s Office Coordinator, tirelessly coordinated efforts between building staff and management to comply with the new laws. Unfortunately, no change resulted. Taking matters into his own hands, Mike researched recycling vendors. This led Bright Power to contract an environmentally-friendly office cleaning company, Managed by Q, which partners with a separate recycling company to pick up all of Bright Power’s recyclables twice a week.
There’s no doubt the reason Bright Power is a special company is its leadership. Jeff Perlman is a unique and visionary President. When Trump’s travel ban was signed, Jeff published his public reaction here. He also sent an email to our entire company that moved me to tears and made me very proud to work at Bright Power. To show you the personal and caring way Bright Power’s leadership approached the issue to us as individuals, I’ve included just the end of Jeff’s email here:
“Please know that I am going to do everything I can to provide all of you with a safe place to work, and have instructed the Ops team to do so as well. If anyone wants to talk to me or Katie about this, our doors are open. Our immigration attorneys are also available to connect with if/when you need. Another resource available to you is the free Confidential Employee Assistance Program which may be of help during this uneasy time.
And please support each other and your friends, families and neighbors. If you want to use the office for any meetings to help fight this, you are welcome to do so. We are stronger together.”
Separate from Bright Power functioning as a for-profit business, we are committed to being an industry partner within the building sustainability space. As such, we have supported Enterprise Community Partners and the National Center for Healthy Homes (NCHH) in a long-term health study on the impacts of green buildings. Bright Power has also contributed to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s efforts by providing resident engagement data and analysis. Additionally, we made our Local Law 87 (LL87) cleaning code open source to help align research efforts within the industry and make the data easier to understand and compare. Sarah Newman, a Bright Power Research Analyst, recently published a blog to share her stimulating analysis of the Local Law 84 (LL84) public data available.
I’m honored to be part of a team so fully committed to reducing our clients’ energy use, water consumption, and utility costs. But it warms my heart all that much more to do so every day surrounded by some of the best folks I know. I’m looking forward to witnessing and participating in all the good doing to come.
Steam heating systems can be tricky. These ancient systems are deceptively simple and notoriously difficult to regulate. Most owners and managers allocate maintenance budget to the boilers themselves. However, when it comes to the pipes and radiators – the steam distribution system that heats the spaces that your residents actually care about – building maintenance staff are often left to their own devices.
In New York City, you can pretty much tell which buildings have steam heat in the winter without ever going inside — it’s common to see windows wide open in the dead of winter, a consequence of imbalanced steam systems. All that heat flying out of the windows represents dollars flying out of the owners’ pockets.
But, without a comprehensive strategy for making a steam heating system perform its job well – i.e. provide even heating across all occupied spaces in your buildings – you aren’t just negatively impacting your bottom line by paying too much in energy costs, you’re also risking your topline.
Let’s take a look at some of the side effects of a neglected steam heating system.
Anyone who’s lived in a building with steam heat knows there are some unique quirks. One Brooklyn resident I spoke with said that her newborn son is not a fan of their building’s steam heating system. The sputtering and clanking are known to wake people up, and that includes babies. Contrary to popular belief, those noises are not signs that the system is working well: it’s a tip that something is off. But more importantly, it’s a nuisance to residents. Strike one.
Maybe residents are having a tough time getting a hold of their landlord or super, or maybe they think they just know best since the problems are in their homes. Whatever the reason, people often want to take matters into their own hands when it comes to fixing problems caused by their steam heating system.
Case in point: a master-metered San Francisco apartment complex we’re working with is undergoing a major steam heating system retrofit, spurred by exorbitant electricity costs. When their steam heating system wasn’t warming up their apartments like it should, residents decided to buy electric space heaters, sending electricity costs through the roof. Strike two.
Enough is Enough
My own experience with steam heat wasn’t a pleasant one. After roughly 3 years of shoddy heating in my Brooklyn apartment, a frigid winter finally froze our pipes and had me saying enough is enough. Yes, there were other factors that made me want to leave my apartment, but reliable heat was chief among them. I went through all of these phases with my steam system. The noises were annoying, but I got used to them. When I got space heaters I was concerned that they were unsafe and I was not pleased with my electricity bills. But when I had no heat coming into my apartment and an unconcerned landlord, I knew it was time to go. Strike three.
Finding the Right Balance
By no means are we condemning steam heating systems. When maintained properly and routinely, these simple systems effectively deliver heat to all kinds of buildings. However, routine maintenance is key, and often undervalued. Poorly maintained steam systems cost more in energy bills and in emergency repairs, but, perhaps more importantly, they negatively impact your customers, i.e.your residents. If the system is a little wonky, most residents will just deal with it. But when steam heating issues pile up, it can push some residents over the edge, causing them to move, and putting a dent in your topline revenue.
For more information, Building Energy Exchange recently released a great white paper called Better Steam Heat. And, of course, we have many experts in steam heating systems at Bright Power – feel free to send us an email at email@example.com or give us a call at 212.803.5868.
Real Estate executives are all too familiar with those “lowest price at the moment, buy it now” cold calls from energy brokers trying to sell supply contracts. What that broker or consultant (or property manager or supplier) may not be sharing with them, are the answers to key questions like: “what’s behind that price” and “how does the energy supply contract affect the management of my properties?” These are important questions, especially since energy supply contracts are often valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Below is a guide to helping you avoid common and costly mistakes before you sign your next energy supply contract.
Have a Plan
- Define your goals and purchasing strategy. Proactive energy procurement has numerous operational and financial benefits, which can be difficult to attain without clearly defined goals and strategy. Some questions to consider include: Are you more comfortable with the budget control provided by a fixed rate or are you looking to achieve the lowest rates with a risk-tolerant variable-rate product? Do you want each building or legal entity to have a customized strategy, or achieve economies of scale in aggregating your portfolio?
- Set your benchmark. Give yourself something to compare against. Do you want to beat last year’s rates, find a number that fits annual or long term budgets, or try to perform well against the utility supply rate? Pick one or two benchmarks for comparison, and then move forward using them. Over several years and contracts, these benchmarks will help put your costs and processes in context.
- Give yourself time. Since energy markets move on a daily basis and market fundamentals such as weather, supply and demand affect long term price changes, when you buy is as important as what you buy. You or your representative should be watching the markets, and advising when the time may be right. Begin the process 4 to 6 months in advance of the contract end date, and give yourself more flexibility.
Read the Contract and Ask Questions
Insider terminology can make energy contracts confusing and difficult to grasp. However, since the contract creates financial and operational obligations for your company; you should always know the impact of what you’re signing. Energy supply contracts not only identify price, building lists, and payment structure, but also provide instruction for a number of “what if” scenarios.
- What if I sell a building? Every contract has an Early Termination Fee (ETF). If you know a building will be sold during the contract term, exclude the building or ensure the new owner can assume the contract. Alternatively, a short-term and well-timed fixed rate could add value by lowering operating costs before the sale.
- What if there’s a large change in energy usage at a building? Energy contracts can contain provisions that impose penalties when usage changes outside of a specified range, such as due to efficiency upgrades, installation of new equipment or a period when the account will be off line.
- What happens upon contract expiration? Most energy supply contracts typically continue indefinitely with the supplier after a contract expires, but the rate and terms post-expiration can be hidden and unpredictable. These post-expiration terms should, at least, be made clear to you. In practice, you and your broker or consultant should be developing a new plan for renewal months ahead of expiration.
- Which accounts are included? As obvious as this sounds, it very often it isn’t clear. A contract addendum should include account numbers, service address, rate class and annual usage.
- What is the swing or bandwidth? In the cold winters of 2014 and 2015, many Northeast retail energy buyers were hurt with high usages and extra charges. Having a negotiated “swing provision” provides insurance that the supplier will provide the correct amount of energy at the agreed upon rate structure.
Avoid Racing to the Bottom
When someone jumps out and tries to “beat a price” that’s your cue to step back and closely evaluate. Those “great deals” often come at a hidden price and can create an uneven playing field. Many times, what is falsely advertised as the “lowest price” isn’t actually favorable, as suppliers or brokers will add hidden fees and pass along unnecessary risk to the customer in the contract fine print. A trusted “lowest price” is the one which results from your designed process. If you can develop a plan and achieve your benchmarks, you can comfortably execute agreements for your organization on your final RFP contracting day.
In summary, there’s a lot to think about when you’re buying energy. And there are, unfortunately, a lot of people in the energy business who profit on not sharing complete information with their customers. So remember to take the time to: create and execute a plan, read the contract and ask questions, and don’t just jump at what someone says is a great price. Of course, Bright Power’s Energy Procurement Team has a wealth of experience in these areas and is always here to help you.
While my sustainability work (which includes managing project scopes such as Passive House Institute US, Enterprise Green Communities, and LEED for Homes) made me aware of the importance of indoor environmental quality (IEQ), I never cared about it as much as I did once I had a baby. IEQ is a broad term covering the overall effects of a building’s interior on occupant health and well-being.
Healthy IEQ has been linked to improved productivity in the workforce (see The COGfx Study – fascinating!), and it is a key component of the newest iterations of green building standards, like LEED v4 and the WELL Building Standard. But it wasn’t economic output I was concerned about in my apartment – just a healthy infant, since, as studies from the NIH, the DOE, and the WHO (among others) have concluded, IEQ can have a very real impact on health and development. So I set out to learn more about what I could do in my own home to improve IEQ for my family:
At the suggestion of a colleague, we tested our apartment with an analyzer kit sold by Home Air Check. The test we purchased measured VOCs, actively growing mold, and toxic formaldehyde. Our apartment didn’t score well in a couple of these categories, which is why we were especially motivated.
The materials used to make and install carpet (not to mention everything that gets trapped in it!) are usually IEQ nightmares. If you do want carpet (I must say our little guy loves it – despite the rug burn), choose carpet certified by The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) as Green Label Plus. We also made a rule that our apartment be shoe free to reduce what we contribute from outside.
Many of us know by now to buy low (or preferably no) VOC paint. Most of our buildings, however, have layers and layers of painted walls – some of which could contain lead. Before making any holes in the walls, we wet the area with a damp napkin and vacuum the area immediately after.
We tried to find products that were GreenGuard (or, even better, GreenGuard Gold) certified or those made from unfinished wood. Since GreenGuard products tended to exceed our budget, we opted for used items since these have already spent years off-gassing! Our beautiful hand-me-down crib is unfortunately not unfinished, and it has plenty of new paint-chipped bite marks at this point…
NASA’s pioneering study on air-filtering plants in 1980 guided our selection of houseplants. We added a small bamboo, a snake plant, a peace lily, a Chinese evergreen, and a few spider plants to our collection.
Ultimately, the best solution in our apartment (which had been renovated just prior to our purchasing it) was to leave the windows open as much as possible. (Although, we are not far from a highway, so that is another consideration.)
Of course, I wish we lived in a Passive House, so we would have continuous supply air filtered through Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERVs), but we’re not there just yet. So, while I continue to be on the lookout for IEQ issues and resolutions (I’m currently saving up to buy an air purifier), I’m also learning to relax, enjoy my beautiful son, and take deep breaths – even if that means sometimes inhaling a few toxins!
Attention NYS Electric Customers:
Beginning April 1, 2017, New York State Zero Emission Credit (ZEC) charges will be assessed to all NYS customers’ electric bills. The purpose of these charges is to help NYS meet clean air goals set by the Clean Energy Standard (CES). ZEC costs will support cleaner electric generation by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and by keeping certain nuclear generation plants in service. These initiatives support the two NYS goals of reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 40% and of requiring 50% of electric generation to be from renewable sources by 2030.
ZEC charges represent a cost increase of $.003 to $.005/kwh to the electric supply cost for all retail (ESCO) and utility supply customers. This adds approximately 2% to a typical Con Edison electric customer’s bill, when you factor in both supply and delivery charges.
New York State Steps into a Leadership Role
In the last year, the establishment of the CES has helped reinforce NYS as leader in supporting clean air, renewable energy, and slowing climate change. As we enter into a time of uncertain environmental leadership from the federal government, New York continues to move toward a future of energy largely being produced through clean and renewable methods. At Bright Power, we feel these initiatives are in sync with the long term needs of our customers and our planet.