Cogeneration: Off-grid Power Plants Could be Key as New York City Transitions to Renewables

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The Con Edison blackout on July 13 left 73,000 residents of midtown Manhattan without power, and a subsequent blackout affected 30,000 residents of Brooklyn and 8,000 in Jamaica, Queens. Yet Penn South, the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing complex just five blocks south of the Manhattan blackout, had no reason to be concerned about Con Edison. The same is true for Rochdale Village, the Mitchell-Lama complex in Greater Jamaica, Queens. Both are off the grid, generate their own power, and offer a model for others, as Con Edison warns that more outages could be coming.

New Yorkers are not used to looking to affordable housing developments for innovations, but Penn South and Rochdale Village are energy leaders. They are showing the way for New York City, as it addresses energy priorities in the 21st century.

Penn South, composed of 10 buildings and nearly 3,000 units, stretches from 23rd to 29th Streets between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. It is 57 years old. Rochdale Village is one year younger and consists of 20 buildings in Greater Jamaica. Both provide affordable housing to moderate and middle-income New Yorkers through New York’s Mitchell-Lama program.

Both have their own cogeneration power plants, which produce all the electrical power, heating, air-conditioning, and domestic hot water for their entire residential developments and other amenities with no connection to an outside utility company. (Other affordable housing complexes are partially off the grid.) Cogeneration is a more efficient use of fuel than traditional power generation because otherwise-wasted heat from electricity generation is put to productive use.

Both housing complexes are examples for the rest of New York City because many districts and facilities could be well-served by cogeneration, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and neither complex is dependent on Con Edison.

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