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Forest Hills co-op owner sweats over city’s boiler plan

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A Forest Hills co-op owner is warning Queens landlords who burn high-polluting heating oil that a possibly pricey change is on the horizon.

As part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030, all apartment buildings must use higher-quality oil or switch to natural gas by the year 2030, which means capital improvements that many building owners cannot afford, according to Greg Carlson, executive director of the New York Affordable Housing Management Association, a nonprofit advocacy group for property owners.

“It’s going to be too tall of an order for some folks,” said Carlson. “I think it’s going to be too tough for a small landlord who probably won’t even know what’s going on at this point.”

About 10,000 buildings across the city burn what is known as No. 4 or No. 6 heating oil, which cause substantial air pollution, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to preserving the environment.

The fund conducted a study that found the buildings that use these types of oil, less than 1 percent off all in the five boroughs, create twice the pollution level of auto traffic inside the city limits.

The buildings that use the oils for heat are concentrated in pockets across the city. But in Queens there are concentrations in Sunnyside, Astoria, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Forest Hills, Flushing and Bay Terrace.

Carlson said he and real estate owners agree that something must be done to curb the extensive air pollution, but that not enough time has been allotted for the change.

“You’ve got to inform everyone,” he said. “You could be really cooked bad.”

Carlson is referring to a deadline of July 1, 2012, when the city will stop issuing permits — which need to be renewed every third year — for boilers that use Nos. 4 and 6.

If a building’s permit expires in August 2012, it would need to start budgeting for a change now, Carlson said. And the costs can vary widely.

In the best-case scenario, the conversion of a boiler that burns No. 6 to a boiler that would burn Nos. 2 or 4 would cost between $5,000 to $10,000, which would include an inspection and the removal of a pre-heater.

But costs could soar if the inspection reveals an underground tank that leaks oil into the soil. It could cost $50,000 to have it excavated and replaced.

To convert to natural gas could be even more costly. Carlson estimated that the easiest conversion would cost roughly $70,000. The process would include pressurizing the tank and installing piping. But the worst case scenario could run as much as $500,000 he said.

But Carlson said that the city is providing funding opportunities.

Isabelle Silverman of the Environmental Defense Fund said the PlaNYC regulations give plenty of time for building owners to begin preparations and will even provide benefits for those who switch over to cleaner-burning No. 2 oil or to natural gas.

“Most likely, you will spend less money by going to No. 2 oil,” she said. “You don’t need to preheat the fuel, you have less maintenance cost and you burn fewer gallons because you’re not sooting up your boiler.”

Carlson was set to meet with city officials this week to hash out a way to get the word out about the switch.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 12:01 pm, October 12, 2011
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