Frank Lovece in Green Ideas on July 11, 2017
Nobody said it was going to be easy. For years, the middle-class, 930-unit Georgetown Mews co-op in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, has been trying to tap the sun’s energy – arranging financing and securing approvals to install solar panels on 32 of its 38 buildings’ roofs. In 2014, when the project was in full-fledged development, the system was projected to produce around 35 percent of the community’s electricity, saving the co-op about $250,000 a year. Though budgeted at $3.5 million, federal and state incentives and a Con Edison credit would have reduced the co-op’s out-of-pocket expense to just $458,000.
That sunny outlook quickly darkened after a series of bad breaks. “I’ve been there since the beginning, since 2012,” recalls the endeavor’s project manager, Steve Owen, founder and president of the consulting firm Sol Alliance. “Originally [the contractor] was Mercury Solar Systems, one of the largest solar contractors in the state. In 2014, when we were getting ready to write a contract, Mercury was acquired by Real Goods Solar, one of the godfathers of the solar industry.” And that same year, Real Goods Solar, also known as RGS Energy, stopped doing commercial projects such as Georgetown Mews to focus on single-family homes and other smaller projects.
That meant finding a new contractor: Green Street Solar Power. “We stepped into a project that had been carefully vetted,” says Dave Kane, an executive with the firm, “a project that had been engineered and analyzed from top to bottom.” In the interim, rapidly evolving technology meant that, for roughly the same cost, “we increased the project’s electricity 40 percent just because we’re using the latest [solar] panels, which are more efficient.” That meant, says the co-op’s attorney James Samson, that the project “would push us up to $425,000 a year in savings.”
That was the good news. The bad news was that the city was now asking for permit applications almost apartment by apartment. “The Department of Buildings (DOB) originally wanted me to submit 465 applications,” says Green Street general manager Samantha Lennon. “That would have taken a week and flooded the Department of Buildings. But we figured a way around it by creating 32 master permits, one for each building.”
“We reached out to the solar-ombudsmen team at Sustainable CUNY,” says Owen, referring to the City University of New York initiative. “And we were able to advocate with the DOB and the New York Fire Department to look at the current structure of the rules and regulations and see they could how better approve these kinds of projects. They created an IT solution to enable us to file multiple apartments under one permit. Together we created something that will pave the way for others to implement their clean energy future.”
No, it wasn’t easy. But in the end, the board’s doggedness paid off. After years of delays, the solar project at Georgetown Mews is finally under way.
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