Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums
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Energy Issues

Publication Date: Autumn 2000

How Can NYC and Your Building Combat Rising Energy Costs?

Suddenly, after more than a decade of complacency, attention is riveted on energy conservation. And with good cause. With oil production limited, fuel costs have skyrocketed since the beginning of the year and reserves of home heating oil are currently at distressingly low levels. As housing cooperatives and condominiums prepare their budgets for the year 2001, this new energy crisis cannot be ignored. Buildings heated with natural gas or those able to use both gas and oil may find themselves in a somewhat better position than those dependent exclusively on oil heat. But gas prices have also increased. And the new deregulated electricity market has also brought higher rather than lower, costs at the present time, also due in some part to the escalating cost of fuel.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer has been a leader in focusing on this new energy crisis and has been making recommendations for short and long term measures to cope with both the cost and supply of fuel, natural gas and affordable electricity. Since assuming his seat in the Senate, Mr. Schumer has worked to heighten awareness of the need to contain energy costs and conserve energy use.

Nowhere is the nation is the dependency upon oil stronger than in the Northeast, where the heating season is long and the use of heating oil is widespread. In an effort to mitigate the effect of the oil price increases on city residents, Mayor Giuliani has established a Task Force on Home Heating Oil chaired by Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jane Hoffman. The Mayor has charged this Task Force with reviewing the present situation and proposing ways for the city to ensure that an adequate supply of affordable fuel will be available for this winter. The Task Force will is also suggest ways that New York City can improve conditions leading to the availability of affordable heating in the future.

Senator Schumer was the first witness at an in-depth two-day hearing where the Task Force gathered information from representatives of every aspect of the heating oil industry to serve as background for its deliberations. The Senator sketched a history of the present crunch and offered specific recommendations for the better understanding and use of energy resources. The speakers that followed each presented their own aspect of the industry ranging from family companies that deliver oil and service heating equipment to traders in oil futures.



On a raw, bitterly cold morning in January 1973, I had the bizarre experience of attending a meeting with four other individuals in a stiflingly overheated room. Despite the 10-degree temperature outside, the room air conditioner was turned on to make the space usable. This in the middle of an energy crisis. Strange as it may seem, I had a similar experience this past winter. Why not open a window if a room is overheated?

Following is a list of possible ways to cut today's awesome energy bills:

1) Open windows to adjust room temperature (don't compound the energy problem with air conditioners).

2) Draw shades, drapes, curtains to conserve heat at night, open during the day for sunlight to enter.

3) Close unused rooms and turn off heat if possible.

4) Use ceiling fans at low speed to recirculate ceiling heat to people level.

5) Set back thermostat at night up to 10 degrees (more than this wastes heat on morning recovery).

6) Use humidifiers to raise humidity level for comfort; this can permit you to lower the thermostat 3-5 degrees.

1) Use shades, etc. to keep out warming sunlight.

2) Use ceiling fan at moderate to high speed for air circulation.

3) Close unused rooms.

4) Use timers on air conditioners.

1) Change incandescent bulbs to fluorescent energy saving lamps.

2) Check for water leaks; cold water as well as hot consumes energy.

3) Install furnace flue damper when possible.

4) Pay attention to energy efficiency ratings when purchasing new appliances. A moderate amount of intelligent attention to energy conservation can result in big savings.

--Herb Rose
November 2000


Each panel contributed its own piece of the complex puzzle that the Task Force must grapple with in its quest for sound policies for our city.

Crude oil is the raw material both for gasoline and for home heating oil. It is during the refinery process that the oil is prepared for each use. After a summer of record gasoline production and use, refineries modify their machinery to begin processing home heating oil. Even with refineries working at full capacity, there is an initial period of limited supply of home heating oil. As new supplies arrive at refineries and are processed, reserves will begin to be rebuilt. But, while fuel is in short supply, prices will be high. Continued limited production by the oil producing nations could prolong the period of short supply. Hostilities in the Middle East could further aggravate the situation. And a cold winter could further tax budgets and nerves. However, if more oil becomes available, prices should go down.

This leaves end users such as housing cooperatives and condominiums faced with the dilemma of whether to lock in a pricing plan for this heating season or to wait and accept market conditions with each fuel purchase. The advantage of agreeing upon a flat fee per gallon is that it makes that aspect of the fuel bill predictable (while hoping for a mild winter to limit fuel use). The drawback is the possibility that the price you lock in today may prove to be much higher than the market price two months from now. The decision that your cooperative or condominium will make on this question should be based on the financial needs of the building and its residents. A realistic evaluation of the ability of the corporation to absorb additional fuel price spikes is crucial, and whether residents would truly prefer special assessments to budget increases should also be considered.

In addition to prudent budgeting, there are many measures that your cooperative or condominium can take to reduce energy costs while maintaining or even increasing comfort levels for building residents. Your building superintendent should maintain the entire heating system in peak condition at all times. This includes regular cleaning of the boiler and burner and maintenance of steam traps and radiator valves. At CNYC's 20th annual Housing Conference on Sunday, November 12th the heating system will be discussed both in Dick Koral's morning workshop on A Program of Effective Maintenance and in Fred Goldner's presentation on Understanding Your Heating System in the afternoon.

The heating laws of the City of New York require that, from October 1 through May 1, whenever the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees between the hours of 6 AM and 10 PM, inside temperature must be maintained at 68 degrees. At night, whenever the outside temperature falls below 40 degrees between the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM, an inside temperature of 55 degrees must be maintained. Because heating conditions differ in different parts of a building, to ensure 68 degrees in the coldest room many other rooms are often much hotter. In such instances, the remedy of choice is to open the windows, sending expensive, heated air (and energy dollars along with it) out into space.

Every effort should be made to correct problems that lead to this form of energy loss of this type. Sealing leaks and drafts in the colder rooms will help reduce heating costs. Residents should be encouraged to bridge gaps between door and sill with door sweeps, to caulk areas around windows where air enters and to install plastic coating to seal windows that will not be used during the winter. Some buildings purchase a supply of rope caulking and weatherstripping each autumn and make it available to residents for this purpose. Radiator valves should also be inspected to ensure proper functioning.

When improvements are made such as new thermal windows or storm windows or increased insulation it is important to readjust the heating system to take advantage of the improvement.

There are many additional measures that should be encouraged in your building to preserve fuel and electricity while ensuring comfort of all residents. Consultant Herb Rose is a former member of the Executive Board of CNYC and currently represents CNYC on the Independent System Operator which oversees deregulated electricity in New York State. Mr. Rose has supplied some advice on energy conservation in the box at the right.

CNYC continues to monitor the progress of electricity deregulation in the state of New York and to try to ensure that the interests of apartment buildings and their residents are not neglected as the process of deregulation unfolds. To date, there have not been many opportunities for savings, nor has there been much interest among smaller consumers in jumping into this unknown area. By the end of the year 2002, Con Edison will no longer sell energy. All customers will purchase electricity from Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) and will pay Con Edison to transport the power to them.

Transportation costs comprise the lion's share of an electric bill, due in part to Con Edison's 'stranded costs' of maintaining infrastructure sufficient to supply power at peak demand. As part of the deregulation process, Con Edison has been required to sell its generating facilities. It has also announced a merger with Northeast Utilities next spring, which is expected to further reduce its overhead. A proposal negotiated at the direction of Governor Pataki with significant participation from the Consumer Protection Board postulates reducing Con Edison rates by $1.4 Billion through 2005, saving residential and small and mid-sized commercial customers 17.3% and larger commercial customers 13.7%. If adopted, this proposal will significantly impact the cost to the consumer of transporting electricity (even if they no longer purchase power from Con Edison) and may even be sufficient to balance the increase in the cost of power itself. CNYC will continue to monitor energy deregulation and report upon its progress.



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