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Solar Energy Will Shine – at Last – for Huge Queens Co-op

Frank Lovece in Green Ideas on July 21, 2017

Kew Gardens Hills, Queens

Georgetown Mews 3
July 21, 2017

For Georgetown Mews, the massive, 930-unit co-op in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, that has spent years trying to install solar panels, there finally appears to be sunlight at the end of the tunnel.

Yet while approved permits are now trickling in from the Department of Buildings (DOB), obstacles remain. Con Ed wants Georgetown Mews to upgrade several of the neighborhood’s transformers, those closet-size devices, usually buried in underground vaults, that transform power lines’ high-voltage electricity into household current. Then there is the matter of an impact study.

“Con Ed does an impact study for projects over 200 kilowatts,” says Samantha Lennon, general manager at Green Street Solar Power, the contractor on the job. The Georgetown Mews project as a whole is about 1.5 megawatts, or 1,500 kilowatts. That means each of the separately permitted 32 parts is well below the 200-kilowatt threshold. “But once all 32 applications came in, Con Ed decided that all 32 having the same owner and being in same area meant they would need an impact study,” Lennon says. “It was kind of a shock and surprise that they were going to do this. And then they said the study would take a week and that turned in a month and a half.”

“We do acknowledge that we have a lot of departments here, and they all have very specific roles – and that can be a little challenging sometimes, because it’s not the first time we’ve heard this,” a Con Ed spokesperson says about the process. “We have been talking to [Georgetown Mews] for a few years. The initial conversations were really about their rate, their credit, and what kind of program they’re going to fall under. It was only in January 2017 that they actually submitted [documentation] to us for interconnection [to the electrical grid] and that’s when we spoke to them about the process and the studies that would be required.”

The impact study, which cost the co-op $15,000, specified which transformers Con Ed wants Georgetown Mews to upgrade, as well as incidental improvements, such as installing a communication device to monitor the flow of surplus electricity into the grid. Ongoing negotiations between the co-op and Con Ed have delayed what is now a $3.3 million project that, with incentives and credits, will cost the co-op about $1 million out-of-pocket.

The cost of the work required by Con Ed is roughly $153,000, says the co-op’s attorney, James Samson. The co-op budgeted $100,000 for electrical upgrades, according to property manager Robert D’Amico.

So all the angst and continuing negotiations and bad blood comes down to roughly $50,000 in a $1 million expenditure?

“In the grand scheme of things, you’re not talking tremendous amount of money,” D’Amico concedes. “But it’s still money you don’t have [budgeted]. And it’s salt in the wound.”

Samson remains sanguine. “All of these things are just minor irritants at this point,” he says. “There are always cost overruns and problems that have to be solved and bureaucrats to be dealt with on any big project. But we’re dealing with them.”

“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” D’Amico adds. “It’s going to be great for Georgetown. Anytime you can save money, you can balance your budget without increasing maintenance or doing assessments. But it’s been a very tedious process.”

That it has been. Yet if this middle-class co-op can pull off one of the biggest residential solar projects New York State has ever seen, then the city, Con Ed, and local solar professionals will have gained experience that will make the process go much more smoothly for any smaller co-op or condo planning to go solar as well.

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