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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's the Deal With Manhattan Park and Roosevelt Island Electricity Charges?


You Tube video of School House Rock - Electricity

According to Daily News columnist Bill Hammond:
this year's legislative session has been dubbed the "Seinfeld session" - the session about nothing.
He details many issues the legislature should be addressing right now but are not including:
... finding a way to lower electric bills and keep the lights - and air conditioning - on during heat waves.
Which leads me to this question posed by a Manhattan Park resident:
I had a question regarding electricity on RI. I am a tenant at Manhattan Park and when I first moved in I was told that the island gets its electricity in bulk. I didn't think to ask for more information about that at the time, but now I am curious. I was wondering if you had any information about the way the island gets its electricity.
Readers from this post last September on the Manhattan Park pool provide some information on Manhattan Park electricity charges. For instance:
I do not think Manhattan Park disclosed much when we were looking for a new apartment. So far we've been met with a $400.00 utility bill in February. We leave for work at 7 and are home at 7 and we were not home for 2 weekends out of the month. We tried to contest it but to no avail....
And:
I agree wholeheartedly with the outrageous utility bills at Manhattan Park. Ours was over 300 bucks last month. I'm afraid to see what winter brings in. Not only was this not disclosed when we moved in, the paperwork suggested that because Con Ed charges Manhattan Park a sort of bulk rate, that our utility portion of our rent would be LOWER!

Clearly not the case.
More:
I completely forgot about the sell on the bulk rate! Our utility bill is higher in the winter which was never the case in other apartments. Their excuse for the sudden increase was that the cost went up that month. That didn't settle with me but it was either pay it or end up in court. Manhattan Park is known to be very aggressive with tenants who pay late and/or not the total amount of rent.
A possible explanation:
while electric bills are outrageous at Manhattan Park, it likely has nothing to do with the rate and everything to do with the crap heating/cooling units, especially with regard to heating. Forced air is notoriously inefficient, and the units at Manhattan Park are mindblowingly inefficient.
Aside from Manhattan Park electricity bills, the NY Times reported in March 2008 that:
Residents of New York City will see the biggest one-time rise in their bills for electric service next month, after state regulators approved a $425 million increase in rates for Con Edison on Wednesday.

The typical household in the city will pay about $4.25 more each month for the delivery of power by the company, whose string of recent failures and disasters has drawn heated criticism from customers and elected officials, regulators said.
Answering the reader's question, to my knowledge Roosevelt Island does not receive any electricity on an Island wide basis but each individual building is responsible for itself. When I lived at Manhattan Park I recall being told that the entire complex purchases electricity in bulk from Con Edison at a discount (something like buying wholesale rather than retail) and then passes on the savings to the tenants without charging any mark up for a landlord's profit. Each apartment is individually metered so that, in theory, a tenant pays for the electricity consumed. I don't know if this works in practice though.

I suggest taking a look at your lease agreement. There is probably a provision permitting challenging electricity charges with an energy audit. Talk to some of the other tenants about their electrical bills and perhaps a group of tenants can jointly get an energy audit done.

Here's some information on auditing electricity bills from 2004 Cooperator, a co-op and condo newsletter:
The Utility Bill Audit
Another kind of audit is the utility bill audit. These audits can be done by the actual customer, but isn't as likely to be quite as effective as hiring an auditor who specializes in the utility market.
In this case, the auditors/consultants will request a copy of the customer's electric bill, usually one month. The consultants can then go to Con Ed and get two years worth of information on the customer's energy usage for free, and four more years can be purchased - usually at the expense of the consultant - for $15 per account per year.
With six years worth of bills, the auditor or auditors will look for any mistakes or errors and look for billing reduction opportunities. If opportunities are found, they're implemented, and the auditor will also visit the building to look at the meter and make sure it is on the right rate, and that the meter multiplier that is on the meter matches the meter multiplier on the bill. The auditor sometimes removes unnecessary equipment the customer is paying for, determines how the building is heated or cooled, and works to determine if the building qualifies for a better rate.
A credible utility bill auditor has a good relationship with the utility company, and understands their billing, rates, and other factors that will allow them to find the kind of savings most customers may never be able to identify on their own.
Also, the Cooperator on bulk electricity sales:
"In buildings with individual meters, the building will purchase the energy from the utility in bulk, rather than each individual apartment buying energy. When submetering is installed in a directly metered building, the utility no longer bills each unit. It bills the whole property at the established bulk rate, which can be 18 to 25 percent less than the individual residential rate.
I would think this information applies to a rental building as well. Hope it helps. Also, check out the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) for energy cost saving programs and ideas.
If you live in a building with five units or more, NYSERDA’s Multifamily Performance Program connects with building owners, property managers and other housing organizations to improve the energy efficiency of the building to reduce energy costs for tenants and provide a more comfortable living environment. This Program provides a customized approach to energy efficiency using a Multifamily Performance Partner that can guide the building owner through every step of the process.
One final resource that may help is Submeteronline, a web site providing information on electricity cost saving options for residential buildings though it has not been updated since 2005.

I asked representatives of Manhattan Park for comment but they have not replied.

UPDATE - 8/10 - Interesting explanation from NY Times on how to read your electricity bill.

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