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Dispute With Con Ed Can’t Derail Solar Project at Huge Queens Co-op

Frank Lovece in Green Ideas on June 16, 2017

Kew Gardens Hills

Georgetown Mews Solar

The rooftops at Georgetown Mews will be carpeted with solar panels (photo by Green Street Solar Power)

June 16, 2017

For Georgetown Mews, the massive 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. The co-op installed electric submetering years ago. And when this complex of 930 garden apartments in 38 buildings pulls off one of New York State’s largest solar projects ever, it will have set precedents in city permitting and Con Edison approvals that will make solar energy simpler for every other co-op or condo in the city.

In the meantime, though, board president Mary Fisher is understandably frustrated at what many involved in the project claim has been foot-dragging on the part of Con Ed, which has caused delays that threaten deadlines for government subsidies. The public utility says it is merely following regulatory obligations and that it wants the project to succeed. But the co-op board feels otherwise.

“Con Ed has talked for years about going green,” says Fisher. “But now they say, ‘Oh, no, the complex is so big.’ Con Ed dangles the carrot in front of my face, and now they’re going to smack me because I’m a bad horse?”

“Statutorily, they’re required to permit us to do it,” says the board’s lawyer, James Samson, a partner at Samson, Fink & Dubow. “But they can set terms.”

The sticking point: 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. “This is outrageous,” Samson says. “They’ve allowed their transformers to deteriorate and they figure, ‘We’ll let the co-op pay for it.’ ”

A Con Ed spokesperson responds that it’s not about routine maintenance but about making upgrades to nine of the neighborhood’s fifteen transformers to ensure that they can handle all the electricity that this massive project will generate, since whatever the co-op doesn’t use will get fed back into the public electrical grid.

“Any customer putting [solar] or wind power or whatever it is – if work needs to be done to make sure the [grid] maintains safety and reliability for them and all the other customers in the area, then that customer is responsible for the upgrade costs,” the Con Ed spokesperson says. “I can see some frustration. They want to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible. We recognize that. But we can see beyond that and believe the end result is going to be truly fantastic. We want to use new technology and are looking for partners like this co-op. We’re really excited to be working with them and really using them as an example of what could be.”

“All of these things are just minor irritants at this point,” says attorney Samson. “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.”

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