Schenectady County

Project piles up Schenectady energy savings

A major energy-savings project at the Municipal Housing Authority will save millions while sharply r

A major energy-savings project at the Municipal Housing Authority will save millions while sharply reducing pollution from electricity generation, officials say.

Just the simplest step in the project — replacing more than 6,000 light bulbs with modern fluorescents — CFLs — will cut the city’s pollution by 91 metric tons. By comparison, the city needs to cut just 324 metric tons — the carbon pollution produced by coal-fired electrical plants — to fulfill the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. In that agreement, mayors vowed to reduce their cities’ pollution by 7 percent by 2012.

Schenectady has cut its pollution by 4 percent so far. The MHA project may cut the final 3 percent, making Schenectady one of the first cities to fulfill the Climate Protection Agreement.

“This is almost too good to be true,” said Dana Swalla, who leads the pollution-reducing task force. She had believed the city would have to make big investments — such as buying expensive cars with better mileage to replace the police fleet — to meet its 2012 goal. She was delighted to learn that the MHA, on its own, had embarked upon a project that would profoundly reduce the city’s pollution.

The agency is lowering and controlling the heat in its apartments, better insulating its buildings, installing more efficient boilers and even replacing 1,000 refrigerators with Energy Star models. In addition, the agency will dramatically reduce the amount of water its residents use by installing low-flow toilets, showerheads and faucets.

But the light bulbs alone will help the environment as much as taking 26 mid-sized, 30-mpg cars off the road for an entire year.

“That shows that if everybody does something, it saves a lot,” Swalla said.

The housing authority considered energy-efficiency projects primarily as a way to save money while also replacing aging equipment. Many of its boilers and heaters had reached the end of their useful life. But MHA officials were pleased to hear that the project would have a substantial effect on the environment and promised to report back when their project is completed early next year so Swalla could determine their precise pollution reduction level.

Officials said the $7.7 million project was only affordable because MHA won a series of grants for its energy-efficiency measures.

The New York State Energy and Research Development Authority offered the authority $1.255 million to undertake a city-wide efficiency project and the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal offered $600,000. Then the authority learned that the improvements would also get it roughly $300,000 in rebates from National Grid — and if the authority manages to cut its total electrical usage by 20 percent, which officials believe is possible, the authority will get another $352,000 from National Grid. Siemens Building Technologies Inc. will coordinate the project, as it did when the city invested in energy efficient systems last year.

The biggest part of the project involves replacing most of the residential boilers. The new ones are so much more efficient that the authority will be able to heat all of its buildings with one-third fewer boilers.

New programmable thermostats will also be installed with temperature limits so that residents cannot overheat their apartments. Elderly residents and some families will be allowed to warm their apartments to 74 degrees, but that will be the upper limit, said MHA modernization program Coordinator Anthony Fyvey.

Every apartment will also get a new Energy Star refrigerator as well as low-flow toilets, showerheads and faucets. MHA pays the city for its water usage and expects to see a significant savings, Fyvey said.

That will also help reduce the city’s pollution — the biggest energy-user in the city is the pump that draws water from the aquifer, Swalla said.

In addition, MHA is adding insulation to its buildings, particularly Yates Village, and replacing old weatherstripping. That will allow it to use less heat to warm the buildings.

The authority is taking one step that will slightly increase its pollution, although it will save money. MacGathan Townhouses, the public housing project on Watt Street, will be converted from electric to gas heat.

“The useful life of those electric heaters are 34 years. They’re right at the edge of their useful life,” Fyvey said. “It didn’t make sense to replace them with something that will cost us more.”

Swalla said that although electricity costs more than gas, it pollutes less.

But she was enthusiastic about the rest of the project.

“Putting in one CFL [lightbulb] is a huge improvement,” she said, then quickly calculated the impact of 6,000 CFLs. “Wow. This is — wow. That’s a lot.”

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