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A Solar Cluster Grows in Brooklyn

Bill Morris in Green Ideas on September 30, 2016


Solarize Brooklyn

Kendall Christiansen and his wife, Carol Schuchman, show off the solar panels on the roof of their Brooklyn home. (picture by Danielle Finkelstein)

Sept. 30, 2016

Yesterday, we reported that the city’s Department of Buildings expects to issue 3,000 solar permits this year – a twelve-fold increase from four years ago. “We’re at the tipping point,” Laurie Reilly of Sustainable CUNY said in our September issue. “We’ve gone beyond the early adopters...and now we’re moving into the mainstream.”

What does the mainstream look like? Meet Kendall Christiansen, a self-employed consultant who lives in a handsome, two-story townhouse in the Lefferts Manor Historic District, east of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

“Through my consulting work, I’ve had contact with Solar One over the years,” Christiansen says, referring to the non-profit environmental education and training organization. “And when I heard that they were beginning to organize solar groups, I jumped at that. We helped organize a group in this immediate neighborhood.”

Christiansen and his wife, Carol Shuchman, a LEED- certified real estate consultant, hosted two informational meetings in their home in the spring of 2015, at which staffers Solar One’s Here Comes Solar (HCS) initiative made presentations and answered questions. After the meetings, seven neighbors within a half-mile radius signed up to begin the process.

At no charge to homeowners, HSC staffers then made on-site visits, reviewing past Con Ed bills and assessing the viability of solar for each property. Low-cost financing options were reviewed, energy capacity and cost savings were estimated, and designs were drawn up. A bid document was sent out to several installers, which the group then interviewed. All agreed that Quixotic Systems was the best fit.

Christiansen’s roof was in need of major work, so he did a roof replacement before the solar installers showed up. But there were still hoops to jump through, including compliance with fire and building codes, and approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“What’s great about Solar One,” says Christiansen, “is that they hold your hand through the entire process – dealing with bureaucracy, dealing with contractors and electricians – every aspect. It can be maddening, and it could stymie even the most committed person. Here Comes Solar made that go.” Just as important, HCS, which helps installers negotiate the filings and paperwork, also learned about a little-used Historic Homeowner’s Rehabilitation Tax Credit.

The cost of installing 21 panels on Christiansen’s roof was about $35,000. After receiving a grant of $5,000 from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA), Christiansen tapped into a home-equity line of credit, which put up $30,000. Taking advantage of local, state and federal tax credits, as well as abatements on his property taxes, Christiansen’s net cost came down to just $10,000.

The system was up and running by the end of January. Christiansen watched, amazed, as his electric bill went from $300 to $60 a month in the winter, then down to zero. (He still pays $18 a month in fees and taxes.) He was generating more electricity than he was using – which, under the system known as “net metering,” means the surplus electricity will go into the Con Ed grid and be deducted from his future electric bills. It’s like putting money in the bank.

“We love watching the electric meter run backwards!” Christiansen says. “If we save $3,000 a year, it’ll take less than four years to recoup our investment. For us, this was a no-brainer, and it’s a reminder that we’ve done something good for the environment.”

Lefferts Manor now has one of the densest solar clusters in the city. Welcome to the revolution.

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