A handful of Schenectady buildings will soon be able to hook into the most efficient downtown heating and cooling system: Proctors.
The historic Schenectady theater maintains its own district energy plant at the corner of Clinton and State streets. This plant, with its 250-horsepower boilers and 250-ton steam-absorption chillers, generates hot and cold water, then sends it out through underground pipes to customers along the Proctors block.
On Wednesday, Proctors was awarded $2.9 million in New York State Energy Research and Development Authority funds through the state’s third annual Regional Economic Development Council awards to expand the plant’s capacity so it can service other downtown customers. Proctors CEO Philip Morris said he was happy to get the governor’s support for the project, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save businesses money.
“To get this support is just huge,” he said. “The project revolves around the whole notion of decentralized utilities, which are less susceptible to the sort of calamities you can see happen during major hurricanes. They’re cleaner and greener. We estimate that our carbon footprint will be reduced by about 45 pounds per hour by this expansion.”
Proctors has run its own cogeneration plant since 2005, supplying energy to most of its own facility, as well as the Hampton Inn, the new Transfinder building and the entire Center City complex, which houses the new Johnny’s Restaurant, CVS, YMCA, Metroplex and more. Customers who get their energy from the combined heat and power system save money because they don’t have to buy or install their own boilers and chillers. The same plant also melts snow along the sidewalks of the entire Proctors block in the winter, which saves money on plowing and salting.
The same plant also melts snow along the sidewalks of the entire Proctors block in the winter, which saves money on plowing and salting.
With the expansion, Proctors will be able to get its Mainstage on the cooling system, upgrade the plant equipment to allow for more capacity and get the adjacent Parker Inn and Key Hall on the heating and cooling system. A later phase of the project will include construction of more underground pipes to allow more customers to come on the system down the road.
In a way, Proctors would be building pipes on spec with this last phase. But Morris is confident that his “if you build it, they will come” plan will work out just fine for the cogeneration plant.
For example, he said one place they would direct the pipes is up State Street to the more-than-100-year-old Foster building. That building and several nearby vacant buildings are being cleaned up and renovated by the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority.
“We’re not going to send heat to an empty building,” said Morris. “But you can be prepared so that when a developer does come in, you have a system ready for them to hook up to. This is just my opinion, but the Foster building is a beautiful building. It’s magnificent. I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t become a very interesting site for somebody to grab up. Metroplex has cleaned it, sealed its windows. It’s in beautiful shape. And hopefully the district energy project becomes an added incentive for a developer, because they won’t have to spend that extra money for traditional heating and cooling.”
Eventually, Morris hopes to get the nearby New York Lottery building and Bow Tie Cinemas on the system. He has had conversations with officials at both buildings, but nothing has come to fruition yet.
Proctors actually tried to get the expansion money four years ago. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., even took a tour of the theater in late 2009 to help secure $900,000 in federal money for the plant, but federal funds were hard to come by at the time and the money never came.
Now that $2.9 million in NYSERDA funds are available, Proctors has to come up with about $800,000 to cover the remaining cost of the project.
The plant currently generates a little more than $1 million in revenue a year, but also costs about $1 million to run. Morris estimated the expansion would bring in about 75 percent more revenue, creating a bit of a surplus.
“But we never did this so it could be a profit center for us,” he said. “We did it to guarantee our neighborhood is healthy.”