Volume 18 • Issue 45 | March 24 - 30, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

From left, Charles Komanoff, Lois Sturm and Jeff Perlman, who are proposing ways to mitigate pollution and increase energy efficiency in the area around the East River Generating Station on E. 14th St., in front of the power plant.

Green Block needs more cultivation, committee says

By Lincoln Anderson

An initiative to improve energy efficiency and air quality in the East Village near the E. 14th St. Con Edison plant needs some more community input and fine-tuning before more than $2 million is allocated for the project, a Community Board 3 committee decided last week.

Originally, the Greening a Block project called for one East Village block — which has not been identified yet — near the plant to be made energy efficient using means ranging from installing fluorescent bulbs and new Energy Star refrigerators to green roofs planted with bushes and grass. Based on community input received at a March 6 public hearing, however, the proposal has since been modified.

The Greening a Block component has now been scaled back from three phases of converting 12 to 15 buildings in each phase to make them more energy efficient to just one phase, which would be evaluated after the conversion. Also, a pilot project to increase energy efficiency in 75 to 100 apartments at Haven Plaza — a subsidized-housing complex owned by the Catholic Archdiocese near the Con Ed plant — is now part of the proposal. In addition, the revised plan calls for a Lower East Side Energy Efficiency Office that would manage the Greening a Block project’s first phase and the Haven Plaza pilot project and provide information to help neighbors, landlords and businesses save energy in their buildings and spaces.

As part of a settlement forestalling a community lawsuit against Con Ed’s expansion of electricity and steam production at its East River Generating Station, Con Ed in 2002 set aside $4.25 million for quality-of-life improvements near the power plant. The funds include $2.75 for a fuel-switching account to subsidize Con Ed’s purchase of natural gas in winter if it costs more than oil, and an additional $480,000 for a steam-conversion account for buildings near the power plant to switch from on-site boilers to the Con Ed steam system. No funds have been disbursed yet from either account. The funds can also be used for an alternative community energy-efficiency project if the plan is signed off on by Con Ed, C.B. 3, New York City and the New York State Public Service Commission.

A pair of energy experts — Charles Komanoff and Jeff Perlman — working with Lois Sturm, a member of the local group Neighborhood Energy Network, are advancing the Greening a Block plan, for which they have done a feasibility study. Komanoff and Perlman made their pitch to the C.B. 3 Con Ed Advisory Committee and a small audience of 10 last Wednesday night. The meeting was held at Campos Plaza, a development near the plant.

The revised proposal would transfer the entire $2.75 million from the fuel-switching account to a Lower East Side Energy Efficiency Account to be maintained as a stand-alone interest-bearing account under the control of C.B. 3. Of that amount, $1.2 million would be used to establish and fund the first two years of operation of a Lower East Side Energy Efficiency Office. Of this amount, $300,000 would fund the Energy Efficiency Office’s staff and resources; $200,000 would go toward the energy-efficiency feasibility study for Haven Plaza and the financing and implementation of that project; and $700,000 would be used to implement the first phase of Greening a Block. The remaining $1.55 million balance would be kept in the L.E.S. Energy Efficiency Account for future continuation or expansion of all three programs. C.B. 3 would retain the right to shift the funding to other air-quality-improvement projects around the plant as governed by the 2002 settlement.

Susan Stetzer, district manager of C.B. 3, noted that the board doesn’t have a 501-c-3 nonprofit account and would have to get a ruling from the city’s Law Department about accepting such a quantity of cash, much less a sum that would bear significant interest. Stetzer added that board members are volunteers and that managing this account, as well as just figuring out the account’s structure, would be a big job.

A slight majority of residents and representatives at the meeting expressed reservations about making a fast decision about the proposal.

Melissa Maldonado, representing Congressmember Nydia Velazquez, said, “As an organization, we think, it needs more time to flesh it out. It’s probably too soon to make a final decision. It needs a little more time and community involvement. There has to be more community input and outreach. It’s not every day this community runs across this type of money.”

Lisa Buress of PHROLES (Public Housing Residents of the Lower East Side), said similarly, “I think it would just be better if there were more community input. I think we need to chew over this some more.”

There were some, though, who were more bullish about the plan. Chris Connor, president of the board of directors of the Del Este Village condos on 11th St. between Avenues B and C, was among them.

“At a time when we have people dying over oil in the Middle East, and global warming, this shows that we really can do something,” he said.

“I think this is an incredible, world-changing plan,” said Wendy Brawer, a Lower East Sider who is founding director of NYC Green Map. “We found out there’s no energy-efficiency office in New York — that’s a crime,” she said. There used to be such an office at the Chrysler Building, she noted.

The committee suggested that instead of starting a new L.E.S. Energy Efficiency Office from scratch, that the new office instead be worked in as a subsidiary of GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), the tenant-advocacy organization. But Perlman noted that could be a problem.

“We see a benefit in having an office that is not a subsidiary of GOLES that landlords and building owners would feel comfortable coming to about energy efficiency,” he noted.

Komanoff stressed that the Greening a Block team feels they need a decision soon otherwise they “will run out of energy.”
“There’s not really anything left in the tank,” he said. “If we have to continue to do this on fumes, we don’t have long left before we ossify. We are three people doing this because we believe in this.”

However, Pia Simpson, who chaired the meeting, in explaining why the committee was not prepared to vote on a recommendation on the plan, said, “We’re talking a lot of money that has to be allocated properly. We’re not talking $20. We’re talking $2 million.”


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