Monday, November 10, 2008

Hot Air from the HACP

The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh is digging itself into a giant hole,it seems:

Big drills roared at Northview Heights last week, their truck-mounted bits boring 300-foot-deep wells in the rocky earth, seeking neither oil nor gas, but only access to the subterranean temperatures that promise to warm, cool, and save money.

The drilling of geothermal wells is part of the transformation of the 501-apartment Northview, plus its 91-unit high rise, into models of energy efficiency.

Eventually, the Pittsburgh Housing Authority's 3,300 occupied apartments, plus 200 that are now empty, will get an energy overhaul. It's a $25 million project run by Minneapolis-based Honeywell that involves everything from weatherstripping to new refrigerators, and is guaranteed to pay for itself.
OK, fine so according to the report (and unless I'm reading this wrong), this translates into $800,000 a year in savings -- or up to $9,600,000 in today's dollars -- for the geothermal wells. Now, that means that the rest of the savings, or a maximum of $28,800,000 is from other mechanisms, like weatherstripping, new refrigerators, low flow toilets and shower heads, etc., etc. There's no indication in the article how much money it costs to dig and operate geothermal wells and how much it costs to do low tech solutions.

My question, therefore, is whether the geothermal heating actually is providing a net benefit to HACP or whether it only works, financially speaking, if it is wrapped up with the low-tech stuff. And, if the latter, why are we going out of our way to do the geothermal work... unless it was the only way that Honeywell could make money off of it.

Our good buddy Fester argues,
Geo-thermal air conditioning will significantly reduce peak demand for expensive summer time electricity and geo-thermal heating provides a much higher and thus cheaper temperature base for winter heating. Maintenance will be needed, but ongoing costs for fuel for these base heating/cooling needs will be massively lower. And it is damn hard for an apartment to lose access to the earth for non-payment of a bill, so it provides for a bit of a fiscal cushion for some tenants.
Ah, and you'll notice that I emphasized a bit there, what does that all mean in the context of HACP's long term public housing strategy?

It means, quite frankly, that Northview, Homewood North and Arlington Heights aren't going anywhere. This means that communities that are currently cut off from the rest of the neighborhood and away from jobs and services, will continue to be cut off from jobs and services for the foreseeable future. It means that there is no indication in HACP's plans that there are even considering anything else beyond the current isolation model of public housing... models that they are taking equally great pride in destroying up in the Middle Hill and West Oakland. It means that we've quite honestly given up on integrating public housing into the larger community, and are OK with segregating people in low-income ghettos.*

And this all says nothing, by the way, about the waning and waxing need for public housing in this city, and how that plays a part in HACP's long term facility needs.

So, while I appreciate what HACP is trying to do, I get the feeling that it's fundamentally messed up.

*Too much?


Bram Reichbaum said...

Please run for something.

O said...

Come now Bram, you know my feelings on politicians.

Matt H said...

Good post. HACP is crap.

Anonymous said...

Let's not mix up the issues.

HACP is crap because you saw it from the inside, Matt.

Isolating folks in public housing will stop folks in the neighborhoods from complaining about these new people who just moved in next door who are messing up the neighborhood because they don't know how to behave...which leads to the vicious cycle of what is being normalized...behavior and cultural norms of folks in public housing is dramatically different than the rest of the community. Do you want problem people in the community, with the community attempting to normalize them (and losing) or isolating.

As for geothermal...less use of fossil fuels. Independence from the middle east. That's just good long term strategy for the entire country.

Kudos on HACP.