Since coming to Schenectady in 2002, Proctors CEO Philip Morris has made the theater an arts powerhouse. But before doing that, he showed his creativity and practicality by making it a literal powerhouse, buying a boiler and installing pipes to supply water for heating and cooling not just to Proctors but to some of its neighbors. Last week, New York state recognized Morris’ accomplishment by providing a $2.9 million grant to expand the system further downtown. Good for him, good for Schenectady.
The system is called district heating, and it’s big in Europe. Having a centralized heating source is cheaper, more efficient, more reliable and environmentally friendly (in terms of fuel usage and greenhouse-gas emissions) than each building having its own. And it’s easier to use the waste heat to generate electricity through co-generation, as Morris wants to and has the equipment to do, but currently can’t because of National Grid rules.
The original system cost $7.6 million, with some of that coming from a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority grant, and most from a bank loan. Hampton Inn was the only customer at first, but when State Street was reconstructed, Morris laid a pipe to the other side and started serving Center City as well.
He will now use the latest NYSERDA grant, announced last week as part of the Regional Economic Development Council awards for the Capital Region, to increase capacity and serve more customers. The more the merrier, and cheaper for everyone. Unlike a utility, Morris isn’t out to make money with the system, so he can charge customers less if revenues increase enough for a surplus. Right now, he’s just breaking even.
Expanding the system will not only help existing businesses, but attract new ones through lower energy costs., spurring economic development downtown. So confident of this is Morris, he plans to extend the pipe to some buildings, such as the Foster Building, on spec.
District heating is such a good idea that NYSERDA wants to see the systems all over the state. Thanks to Morris, Schenectady already has one, and it’s about to get better.