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Affordable Solar Comes to Affordable Co-ops

Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on April 4, 2018

Crown Heights, Brooklyn

HDFC Solar

A "canopy" solar panel array will soon be on the roof at 838 Park Place (image courtesy Brooklyn Solar Works).

April 4, 2018

The eight-unit HDFC co-op at 838 Park Place in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is a pioneer. Next month, an array of solar panels will be installed on the four-story building’s roof. After incentives are in place, this affordable co-op will recoup its $20,000 investment in just one year. But that’s only the beginning. 

“This is the first building in New York City to utilize the Community Share Program,” says Anika Wistar-Jones, who facilitates solar projects in affordable housing for the nonprofit Solar One. “This means that Con Edison is crediting the savings from the solar energy directly to the individual accounts of the shareholders. Usually solar energy is credited only to the common areas. The Community Share Program will reduce the electric bill for the common areas and cover the electric bill for every individual unit – up to 100 percent, depending on how much energy they’re using.” 

The whole project will cost $121,506. The co-op was able to amass incentives in the amount of $100,257 by utilizing federal and state tax credits, plus property tax abatements. The residents will get a tax reduction on their individual tax returns. Because the century-old building is in the Crown Heights Historic District, the co-op also secured a 25 percent credit under the New York Historic Homeowner Rehabilitation Tax Credit

Annabelle Heckler, treasurer of the co-op board since 2014, spearheaded this project. “In the fall of 2016 we hosted a series of training sessions for shareholders and board members through UHAB (Urban Homesteading Assistance Board),” Heckler recalls. “One session was about energy efficiency. Two technical consultants came to a training session, and they talked our building through what it would look like to do this project. It seemed feasible for us to go solar.” Income from the co-op’s flip tax was crucial. 

So was Solar One’s guidance. “They helped with technical assistance and the request for bids and proposals,” says Heckler. “They came to our annual shareholder meeting, answered all questions, and explained the project before we voted to move forward.” 

Wistar-Jones of Solar One adds, “We look at places where it’s hardest for people to go solar. We attack those problems. Mostly it’s hard to figure out how the financing will work for a co-op. We get them all the info, onsite assessment, information about incentives, and we assist in soliciting bids from qualified local solar installation companies.” 

Wistar-Jones has worked on about 150 solar projects in New York City. “Most buildings in the city would not be able to get as many benefits as this HDFC in Crown Heights,” she says. “But it’s exciting because lower-income buildings can now afford solar. The payback might be four years instead of one, or the solar would cover only the common area, or offset energy costs only for the individual apartments. But solar is now feasible for most low- and moderate-income buildings.” 

Brooklyn Solar Works will begin installing 100 solar panels at 838 Park Place next month. “We focus on flat-roofed buildings in about 12 zip codes in Brooklyn,” says Chris Neidl director of business development at Brooklyn Solar Works. “Our company is unique that way. Most installers avoid these buildings because the fire code is very restrictive. These smaller flat roofs limit the size of the solar panel system, and the dealings with the Department of Buildings and the Landmarks Preservation Commission are very complex.” 

Brooklyn Solar Works has developed a “canopy” system of panels raised nine feet above the 42-by-100-foot roof, which gives firefighters access to the roof and satisfies the city’s fire code. This also opens up other possibilities. “We’re thinking of getting a green roof to further insulate the building,” says Heckler. 

Neidl believes this pioneering co-op is a model for the future of solar in New York City. “It could really be the beginning of a new species of solar,” he says. “In a dense city, solar used to be quite limited. Now we are looking at an indigenous form of solar that we can apply to other small or moderate-sized multifamily buildings.” 

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – CONSULTANTS: Solar One. INSTALLER: Brooklyn Solar Works. MANAGEMENT: Dynasty Property Management.

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