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Sure, Right

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It’s always striking when the data on energy usage and savings is obfuscated at the outset, and certainly not widely distributed. So, we have nothing to compare actual results to. Further, we have nothing to allow us to see how these numbers are calculated. But let’s take ‘em at face value.

In addition to being officially recognized as a LEED Gold building, O’Brien Hall just received $59,361 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)for the installation of energy ifficiency measures as part of the New York Energy Smart New Construction Program.

To qualify for this award, many Energy Conservation Measures (ECM) were implemented in O’Brien Hall, including air conditioning and heating Unit with an energy recovery wheel, variable speed pumps on all water systems, and high efficiency lighting.

What does all this add up to? Here is the Annual Utilities and Dollar Savings in round numbers:

  • Electric savings = 24,000 kWh ($5,100)
  • Fossil Fuel savings = 13,100 therms ($9,900)
  • Only 1.7 years payback for ECM investment by the Universi

Aside from saving money, the environmental and societal benefits due to reduced emissions from electric power generating plants amounts to reductions in annual nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and carbon dioxide totaling 233,000- lbs!

So, if this is all to qualify for government largesse, then it seems to have been a good investment. But let’s not be fooling anyone here, this is a pretty regressive transfer, and it says nothing about the environmental desirability of the project. But take the electric savings seriously and throw in the fossil fuel savings too. First, is the building run on both gas and electric? What does it mean, then, to save on both fossil fuels AND electricity? They couldn’t possibly be double counting. Since no one has refuted my estimate that it cost $1 million to make this building LEED, the most optimistic return they get on the investment, from an energy perspective, is $15,000 per year. Remember that this number is possibly  as large as it is going to be while the facility is new. So, what is an annual $15,000 return on a $1 million investment? 1.5%. And that’s taking the numbers at face value.

And what about the “environmental and societal benefits?” As I’ve said a zillion times, at what cost? If making a building LEED green reduces SO2 for a cost of $100 per ton, but other programs do it for far less, or the SO2 does less damage than that, then in fact you’re saving neither society nor the planet, but are rather making it worse. You’d think a blog on energy and sustainability would at least recognize this. Second, and I’d love it if someone found out, but as I understand it, much of the electricity we get around these parts comes from the Nuclear Plant nearby (Ginna), the massive hydro-plants in Canada and NYS nearby and lots of natural gas fired generation, oh, and a little wind from places like Cohocton.  Do our green authors know this? Or are they assuming that 100% of these energy savings are coming from reductions in coal-fired power plant use?

Finally, take that last observation seriously. Don’t you find it odd that these “sustainability” writers seem to be opposed to fracking? After all, they are making the exact same argument that pro-frackers make – that switching toward natural gas from goal reduces emissions and saves money. Curious.

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3 Responses to “Sure, Right”

  1. RIT_Rich says:

    “much of the electricity we get around these parts comes from the Nuclear Plant nearby (Ginna), the massive hydro-plants in Canada and NYS nearby and lots of natural gas fired generation, oh, and a little wind from places like Cohocton. Do our green authors know this? Or are they assuming that 100% of these energy savings are coming from reductions in coal-fired power plant use?”

    Electricity ‘savings” are one thing, but fossil fuel savings, as you point out, are something else. Nonetheless, I’m sure there is “some” coal in the electricity delivered by RG&E. NYS has been VERY active these past few years in shutting down coal power plants. Rochester used to have several large coal plants supplying it…now they are all closed (closest remaining one is in Somerset).

    That being said, it is not entirely clear to me that the electricity is mainly nuclear and hydro, given that a lot of coal plants were shut down recently but no replacements were put online (the entirety of the gas power plants are to serve NYC; virtually nothing is aimed at upstate, so I doubt Rochester ever sees anything come from gas).

    So I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that the electricity suppliers are probably buying electricity from locations in other states to make up for the lack of local generation, and it is very likely that a good portion of this energy comes from coal.

    Have your electricity prices been increasing lately? This is probably why.

  2. Michael says:

    I was presuming the electric savings are largely from lighting and AC, where the fossil fuel savings is due to a natural gas furnace. That’s a pretty typical arrangement around here. What did surprise me is the high electric rates (21.25 cents per kWh)! The EIA website has it at about 15 cents per kWh for commercial New York (18.26 for residential). The natural gas prices seemed about right, though.

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