Columbia Receives Energy Discounts for New Science Institute

New York City is helping Columbia University open a new campus by offsetting some energy costs, a practice that is more common than you might think.

On Monday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Columbia University is creating a new Institute for Data Science and Engineering with the city’s financial support, which makes it the fourth educational partnership with the Bloomberg Administration’s Applied Science NYC Initiative,  after CornellTech NYC, New York University and the New York Genome Center.

Interim Dean Donald Goldfarb with Institute Director Kathleen R. McKeown, Associate Director Patricia J. Culligan and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the announcement event. Photo courtesy of Columbia University.

As planned, in order to develop the new science institute on its Morningside Heights and Washington Heights campuses, Columbia will kick in $80 million of its own money and receive $15 million in city benefits. In addition to contributing $1.5 million in lease flexibility and $5.5 million in debt forgiveness, the city has also promised an $8 million discount in energy savings.

The energy saving discount, also known as discounted energy transmission costs, is supported by Business Incentive Rate (BIR), a joint program co-run by the NYC Economic Department Corporation [NYCEDC] and Con Edison, and that offers special reduced energy rates to attract businesses and jobs to New York City.

It’s not unusual for the city to provide such assistance instead of direct funding. Since it launched, the BIR program has been offering a variety of companies in manufacturing and industrial sectors a discount off of Con Edison’s electric delivery charges, according to the NYCEDC. Over a term of five to fifteen years, Con Edison provides a direct energy supply to eligible businesses and organizations, equaling a 32 to 40 percent reduction in the delivery component of their monthly electricity bills, according to Con Edison’s website.

NYU’s new tech campus in Downtown Brooklyn, the Center for Urban Science and Progress, received the same support earlier this year, as well as tax breaks.

New York City’s push for science and engineering goes hand in hand with its plan to go green, as outlined in Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative. Columbia’s institute will play a role in meeting green goals through its Smart Cities Center. The research program, projected to be housed on the school’s Morningside Heights campus, will primarily focus on green infrastructure and buildings, smart grid technology, optimal transportation systems and the urban environment.

The new science school is expected to open in 2016. Flickr/S Abhi.

“The Smart Cities Center will also be looking at what are the local opportunities for solar and combined heat power,” said Mechanical Engineering Professor Vijay Modi, whose study that maps the energy use of New York City is demonstrated on the center’s website. “It is about energy efficiency.”

The Institute Director Kathleen McKeown and BIR’s program manager did not return calls for comment. But an energy discount incentive is likely in conformity with the research center’s interests.

The Smart Cities Center and another four centers, in the fields of new media, health analytics, financial analytics and cybersecurity, will occupy 44,000 square feet of research and academic facilities in the school’s existing buildings by 2016.

NYCEDC is expecting $4 billion in economic impact and roughly 4,500 jobs to be generated by Columbia’s new science campus over the next three decades. The three applied-science institutes operated by Cornell, NYU and Columbia are projected to bring over $33 billion in economic growth to the city.

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