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Sunset Park Co-op Let the Sun Shine In

Marianne Schaefer in Green Ideas on December 29, 2016

Sunset Park

Elmo Homes
Dec. 29, 2016

Elmo Homes, a 24-unit co-op in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is nearly a century old, one of the pioneering housing cooperatives in a neighborhood once known as Finntown. The co-op’s board wanted to step into the 21st century by installing solar panels, but was at a loss when it came to financing. “Taking out a loan to fund this project was worrisome for us,” says Eric Appleton, president of the co-op’s board. “Especially for our building, because we have never borrowed money in our 90-year history.”

Zero Carbon, a company that provides clean energy, is partnering with the nonprofit New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC) to bring Elmo Homes into the 21st century. Zero Carbon is installing solar panels on the co-op’s roof thanks to an ingenious $186,000 loan from NYCEEC that is not costing the co-op a cent up front. It’s part of the trend of declining costs for solar installations.

“Because a co-op is such a unique form of ownership, shareholders can take advantage of tax incentives for solar energy in the same way as individual homeowners,” says Posie Constable, NYCEEC’s director of business development. “In the first two years, every shareholder will get individual tax credits or abatements in their federal, state, and city taxes. Then a portion of that tax relief will be used to pay back the loan.”

After two years, the shareholders will have paid off their personal part of the loan. Then, in years three to ten, the remainder of the loan will be paid off only with the savings from the solar energy. In the case of Elmo Homes, 75 percent of their energy is expected to come from the sun, and the co-op’s estimated annual savings will be $10,000. Such numbers have caught the attention of other co-op boards across the city.

Elmo Homes is currently on “direct” metering, which means that each of the 24 shareholders pays their share of electricity used in common areas, plus their individual usage and an $18 monthly fee to Con Edison. The co-op will realize significant savings by installing a “master” meter, which measures the building’s entire electrical usage, then bills each unit’s use through sub-meters.

“Because of the utility rules that govern how and where solar arrays can be installed, the size of the solar array is linked to the amount of energy used on the meter account that it is tied to,” explains Nick Lombardi, president and CEO of Zero Carbon. “By changing to a master meter we get to put in four times the amount of solar panels. When you add sub-metering to the master meter, you get the best of both worlds, because you get to build the biggest system your roof can support, and the building gets the savings and revenue of both the solar and the sub-metering.”

"We are convinced that our project will help to stabilize the finances in our building and move towards reducing our energy costs," says board president Appleton. “NYCEEC's and Zero Carbon's willingness to work with us and find a way to manage the aggregated tax credits allowed us to be comfortable taking this step."

And Lombardi and Constable are convinced that small co-ops across the city will soon be following Elmo Homes into the solar-powered 21st century.

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