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A Co-op’s Solar Journey, From Bright Idea to Flipping the Switch

Jeffrey Marino in Bricks & Bucks on October 13, 2021

Hudson Heights, Manhattan

Climate Mobilization Act, solar panels, building carbon emissions, co-op board, Solar One.

Jeffrey Marino with the solar panels on the roof of 250 Cabrini Blvd. in Hudson Heights.

Oct. 13, 2021

A few months after moving into the nine-story, prewar co-op at 250 Cabrini Blvd. in Hudson Heights, I threw my hat in the ring to join the board of directors. My stump speech was: “We all love the rooftop view of the Hudson River, but the east side of the roof is unused. Let’s do something up there that would make sense for the building today.”  

After getting elected, my mission was to get our rooftop to either generate less heat back into the atmosphere or generate energy that would enable us to take a positive step toward mitigating climate change. I pitched two possibilities. Plan A: a rooftop garden that would reduce heat generation, absorb carbon dioxide and reduce storm-water runoff. Plan B: install solar panels that would reduce our reliance on the electric grid and cut our Con Edison bills.

My fellow board members were leery of a rooftop garden, so we turned our attention to the solar project. Suddenly I was fielding a barrage of questions: Can we afford it? Is the roof strong enough? Is there enough sunshine to make it worthwhile? How do we find a trustworthy installer?

When I discovered the NYC Retrofit Accelerator program, we began to get answers to our questions. After I reported to my fellow board members that the Retrofit Accelerator staff would guide us through the project free of charge, they provided their endorsement. In many ways, winning their endorsement was the most difficult thing to achieve.

In late 2018, I met with the staff at Retrofit Accelerator and learned that they would work with us one-on-one, connect us with qualified contractors, find financing and cash incentives, train our building staff and support us after the project was complete. After confirming that we were eligible for no-cost resources, the staff referred us to Solar One, a clean-energy nonprofit, who would act as our free consultant.

Solar One made an initial site visit and then sent an engineer, who confirmed that the project was feasible. Solar One produced a comprehensive summary of the projected performance of the system, its capital expenses and savings from incentives. The projected cost was $123,500, but after incentives, abatements and tax credits, our out-of-pocket cost was just $31,000. We’re expected to save about $8,200 on our electricity bills during the first year – and about $220,000 over the next 25 years. Solar One’s presentation to the board was received with cautious enthusiasm.

After determining that a solar array could be installed that would not require any penetration of the roof membrane – a major concern of the board’s – we set out to find an installer. Solar One prepared a Request for Proposals that went out to vendors in early 2020. The board interviewed the four competitive bidders and checked their references. Shortly after the pandemic shut the city down, the board selected Grid City Electric to do the installation. We appreciated that they would also serve as the electrical contractor for the project through their parent company, 770 Electric, a woman-owned business.

After a thorough review by the board, Solar One, our property manager and attorney, the contract was approved. Finally, after many delays, the installation began in April 2021. By June, with the work nearing completion, Solar One helped us provide information to our shareholders, who may qualify for a one-time benefit when they file their 2020 income taxes. In July, the Department of Buildings signed off on the project. In August, Grid City flipped the switch, and our solar panels were up and running.

At our annual shareholders’ meeting in September – held in person this year – the board received a hearty round of applause. An extra bonus: the city passed the Climate Mobilization Act while we were engaged in this project – and we have already taken a major step toward meeting the act’s goal of reducing our building’s carbon emissions.

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – CONSULTANTS: NYC Retrofit Accelerator and Solar One. ENGINEER: Old Structures Engineering. CONTRACTOR: Grid City Electric. PROPERTY MANAGER: Century Management Services. ATTORNEY: Marcia Fokas.

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