Ron Egatz in Bricks & Bucks on February 7, 2018
Tim Swonder, an electrician by trade, works as an inspection representative for a solar panel installer. So it’s not surprising that Swonder has been talking up the benefits of solar energy ever since he moved into the 48-unit Suffolk Homes Condos on the Lower East Side back in 2000.
“We have a handful of people in the building who’ve been pushing for solar because we see it as an investment,” says Swonder, 58, vice president of the condo board. “But money was always an issue. It’s only been the last five years this technology has become affordable for residential purposes. It was $30 per kilowatt six years ago. Now it’s down to two or three dollars. Many restrictions have gone away. New York State is trying very hard to do as many sustainable energy projects as they can. The current subsidies and tax rebates offered by federal, state, and New York City governments are what has made the cost reduction possible. NYSERDA (the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) was instrumental.”
Obstacles remain for many properties in the city. Two of the biggest are the shadows cast by tall buildings, particularly in Manhattan, and the prevalence of flat roofs, which are not the ideal venue for solar panels. Suffolk Homes was doubly blessed – with no sun-blocking towers nearby, and a sloped roof on one of its two buildings.
“Their sloped roof was ideal,” says George Engelbrecht, a consultant at the solar installer Quixotic Systems. “We showed them Sun Power high-efficiency panels would be the most cost-effective way to go. What was originally going to be a 20-kilowatt system was increased to 41 kilowatts once they saw the economics.”
So after being thwarted for years by high costs, a small selection of contractors, and internal resistance from some unit-owners, Suffolk Homes has finally seen the stars align. With permits approved and equipment ordered, Quixotic Systems will begin installing rooftop panels in March.
Suffolk Homes will recoup its investment in four to five years, according to Swonder. “The following 15 to 20 years [the expected lifespan of a solar panel array] will be pure savings and, essentially, profits for us,” he says. The system was sized to offset 100 percent of common-area electricity use, and it was paid for out of the condo’s reserve fund, which has been built up over the past seven years through flip tax revenues and an increase in common charges. “We saw this system as an investment, and we understand it will be a terrific return for us,” Swonder says. “It will save us as much as $25,000 a year.”
New York City has the highest energy costs in the nation, and as conventional energy rates continue their inexorable rise, the incentives to go solar become more and more attractive. “The numbers in the five boroughs are particularly good at this time,” says Engelbrecht. “NYSERDA has a pure rebate, there’s a state tax credit available to multiple-family homes, and a city real estate tax abatement. On top of that there’s a federal tax credit of 30 percent. Add them together and you have over 70 percent of the system covered by incentives.”
The stars – and the sun – have indeed aligned for Suffolk Homes.
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – SOLAR INSTALLER: Quixotic Systems. SOLAR PANEL MANUFACTURER: Sun Power. PROPERTY MANAGEMENT: MD Squared Property Group.
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