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PSE&G Energy-Efficiency Program Boosts Comfort, Cuts Bills for Tenants

Reducing energy consumption by increasing efficiency transforms daily life in 200-unit apartment complex in Highland Park

energy efficiency

Michaelyn Viskaski has lived in apartments all her life, the past 16 years in the Orchard Gardens complex in Highland Park. Her biggest complaint: having little or no control over how warm or cool her unit is.

“Apartment dwellers are dependent on someone else providing reliant heat,’’ said the 62-year-old widow, particularly in the Northeast. “One day you get one big blast of heat and then nothing for the rest of the day.’’

That looks to have changed because of a $1.3 million energy-efficiency project by Public Service Electric & Gas undertaken at the 208-unit complex, which was built in 1956.

It is part of a big initiative by the state’s largest utility to reduce the energy consumption of its customers -- a strategy endorsed by the Energy Master Plan, but embraced less enthusiastically by some other utilities.

PSE&G has invested approximately $36.5 million in about 50 energy-efficiency projects at multifamily units, according to Rachael Fredericks, program manager at PSE&G Energy Services. The utility has another 50 similar projects seeking to participate in the program, which is running out of funding from authorized state regulators.

In a filing with the state Board of Public Utilities, PSE&G is seeking approval of another $100 million in new energy-efficiency projects. Fredericks said, if approved, the program would provide $30 million for projects at multifamily units.

But Ralph Izzo, chairman, chief executive officer, and president of Public Service Enterprise Group, the owner of PSE&G, would like to do a lot more. The Highlands Park project was delayed because the utility feared it would not have enough money to fund projects already in the pipeline beyond what the BPU had authorized.

The downside for the utility is that by cutting energy consumption for its customers, it is eroding revenue it needs to maintain its wires and other parts of its infrastructure, jeopardizing reliability. As he has argued in the past, Izzo said there need to be changes in the regulatory system to acknowledge that dilemma.

Citing the company’s most recent filing involving more than $100 million in energy efficiency, Izzo asked “why aren’t we doing billions of dollars?’’ He called energy efficiency a win for the environment, for customers, and the company.

Many clean-energy advocates fault the state for not doing enough to promote energy efficiency, which they say can reduce utility bills even with added surcharges to pay for the programs.

“They are trying to do the right thing here,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who rarely agrees with positions taken by the utility.

Utility officials and their consultants say the Highlands Park project is on track to reduce gas usage by 30 percent, a benefit that accrues to the owner of the complex, reduces electric bills for tenants in the summer thanks to more efficient air-conditioning units, and makes tenants at the complex more comfortable overall.

Besides replacing old, outdated and very noisy boilers with more efficient units, the project installed insulation in attics, sealed window air conditioners, and enhanced controls of heating and hot-water equipment to ensure proper temperature adjustment for tenants.

Outdoor sensors monitor the temperature and adjust the boilers to reflect how much energy the units should deliver to apartments, according to Emma Raymont, operations manager for MaGrann Associates in Mount Laurel. They were chosen by PSE&G to oversee management of the project.

For multifamily complexes, the big advantage of the PSE&G program is that building owners do not have to put up money to pay for the project. Funding is provided by the utility, which receives a payback from utility customers over a five-to-10-year payback.

With energy savings, however, the bill goes down even as they pay off the cost of the project, Izzo said.

Some of the benefits go to the owners of the building and the rest to the tenants, both of whom see savings on energy bills.

For Michael Zucker, regional property manager for Jersey Central Management, the owner of the complex, the project far exceeded the company’s expectations.

“Everything that was installed works,’’ he said.

Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and a big proponent of energy efficiency, said there is a role for utilities to play in promoting a reduction in energy use. He said he has initiated a dialogue with Izzo to discuss what shape policies will take.

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