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LIC firm sells conservation to big power users

In the economics of electricity, there is a supply side and a demand side, and the equation is getting tight.

Fires broke out at two Astoria power plants within a day of each other at the end of July, prompting Queens residents to cut down on electricity use while crippling service on numerous borough subway lines. Meanwhile, the chairman of the state’s Public Service Commission recently told the City Council that new power plants would have to come on-line within the next two years to meet the city’s rising energy demands.

But small business owner Larry Sullivan has kept a simple solution to the energy crunch tucked away in his Long Island City shop for more than two decades.

It’s called conservation, and it’s a strategy that not only earns Sullivan a tidy living — having paid for his three sons’ medical and law degrees — but also helps cut costs for a roster of clients that range from the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Center and ConEdison.

“There’s definitely not enough power to go around, and the only way is energy conservation,” Sullivan said recently from his yellow-brick warehouse at 39-05 Crescent St. in Long Island City.

His company, Conserve Electrical Supply Corporation, sells products to a predominantly commercial base of customers interested in cutting down electricity costs through a more efficient use of energy.

“We’ve been into energy conservation since 1979, promoting energy-saving products that can reduce up to 50 percent on some of these electric bills,” said Sullivan, an Irishman who immigrated to the United States at age 19. His voice still harbors the hint of an accent, a subtle melodic lilt that is difficult to place.

With business booming, the long corridors in his warehouse are cramped with supplies, and Sullivan hopes to eventually expand by building additional floors or using a nearby building he already owns.

Sullivan learned the electrician’s trade in Ireland and continued his career upon arriving in New York in 1960.

But he had dreams of starting his own business, a vision he realized in 1979 when the energy crisis hit the nation and the founded the company with support from his family.

“When this energy crunch came on, I thought about starting some way to save the environment and energy conservation where we can eliminate some of the waste in lighting,” Sullivan said. “Every place was overlit.”

Despite the urgency, however, learning to save energy turned out to be a lesson that was slow in coming for many potential customers.

“It was pretty tough as far as the energy aspect,” Sullivan said. “They said nobody cares about saving energy. As the years went by, it got easier and easier all the time.”

Initially Sullivan’s merchandise can be a tough sell because the products themselves are more expensive to purchase than ordinary light bulbs and supplies. But in the long run, the savings in electricity bills can be startling.

“It costs more up front, but it’s not the cost of the product that counts, it’s how much does it cost to operate the product,” he said. “Even if they pay $10 for a light bulb vs. $2, they’ll get it back in six months. You can’t make that kind of money if you put your money in the bank.”

One of Sullivan’s signature product is a 23-watt bulb produced by General Electric that emits the same amount of light as a 75-watt bulb and lasts 15 to 20 times longer. It also costs one-third as much in electricity bills.

It’s a math equation that defies logic, but it’s the wave of the future as far as energy conservation goes.

It also has an added bonus.

“It runs much cooler so you don’t have to have extra air conditioning to cool down the place,” Sullivan said, reaching his hand up to grab one of the 23-watt fixtures in his own office, demonstrating that it’s not too hot to touch.

Those bulbs were recently used to redo the main lobby of Rockefeller Center, which previously had been equipped with 150-watt lights.

Although many people treat electricity as an unlimited resource, Sullivan regards power as a precious commodity that should not be wasted.

“I believe the lights should be treated like water,” he said. “When you go into the bathroom and you find water running, the first thing you’re going to do is turn it off. Yet when you go into a room and see the light on, not many people are going to turn it off.”

To that end, Sullivan sells lights that are rigged to a motion sensor that turns them on or off depending on whether or not anyone is in the room.

If only he could do that with a leaky faucet, too.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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