Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on December 7, 2022
When Lucas Parra joined the board at his 47-unit condo in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, he had a simple reason for wanting to undertake a two-pronged capital project.
“We needed to do a roof renovation, and I saw it as an opportunity to improve the insulation and install solar panels,” says Parra, 56, a professor of biomedical engineering at City College. “My motivation was the environment. A lot of people in the building were motivated by the way the project would increase the value of their apartments.”
Both camps were in for a pleasant surprise. The board got in touch with the nonprofit Solar One, which steered it to a consultation with Andrew Chintz of the NYC Accelerator, a city agency that offers free advice to co-op and condo boards on how to reduce their buildings’ carbon output.
“There are a lot of sharks out there, but I was comfortable with Andrew, and his service was free,” Parra says. “He put us in touch with four or five lenders. The New York City Energy Efficiency Corp. (NYCEEC) was the only one that was willing to finance the roof and the solar panels. They agreed to a 10-year term at a reasonable 6.5% interest rate.”
NYCEEC provides loans for energy efficiency and clean energy projects with funds from the federal government, the city government, banks and other lenders. Lainie Rowland, the NYCEEC associate who shepherded the condo’s loan application, also alerted the board to another reason why the improved roof insulation and the solar installation made sense: when Local Law 97 goes into effect in 2024, boards will face stiff fines if they haven’t reduced their building’s carbon emissions below prescribed caps. It was a bonus the board hadn't expected.
“We realized the project would pay for itself in six years,” Parra says. “With a life expectancy of 20 years, that meant at least 14 years of free clean energy. Once I laid down the numbers, it was obvious this was the thing to do.”
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The NYCEEC loan was for $235,000. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority chipped in a $29,000 cash rebate that goes directly to the solar installer, and a potential investment tax credit of roughly $35,000 will be divided among unit-owners. The condo’s out-of-pocket cost will come to about $50,000, which will be paid out of the reserve fund. When complete, the solar panels will power the building’s common areas and save about $8,000 a year.
But a hurdle remained. The condo’s bylaws require approval by a majority of unit-owners for loans above $50,000. But given the return on investment and the looming fines under Local Law 97 — plus the increased value of apartments — a solid majority voted to move ahead.
Jay Merves, the director of business development at NYCEEC, notes that the condo board will draw on its loan in increments. “We monitor the progress of the job,” Merves says. “We fund the loan in stages during the installation. The borrower pays interest only on the portion they use as they need it.”
As the project moves ahead, Parra does have one regret. “Just before we started this project, we had replaced our gas boiler on the advice of our previous property manager,” Parra says. “We now realize, thanks to the NYC Accelerator, that we should have used electricity in the summertime to heat domestic hot water instead of using the boiler year-round.”
Live and learn. The experience taught Parra lessons he’s happy to pass on to other boards: “Start with a free consultation with the NYC Accelerator to figure out what your building should and should not do. Where do you get the most bang for your buck — solar panels, added insulation, electric heat pumps? We wanted to do this project all along, but when we found out about Local Law 97, that was our wake-up call.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — LENDER: New York City Energy Efficiency Corp. ENGINEER: Syed Engineering. ROOFING CONTRACTOR: Akropol General Contractors. SOLAR INSTALLER: Accord Power. PROPERTY MANAGER: Square Indigo. CONSULTANT: NYC Accelerator.
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