New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine June 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

GREEN IDEAS

HOW NYC CO-OPS/CONDOS SAVE ENERGY

A Co-op’s Solar Dream Goes Up in Smoke

Ron Egatz in Green Ideas

Peekskill

Solar Flameout

The Peekskill Art Lofts, where solar dreams did not come true (photo by Michael Towns)

Last summer, my limited-equity co-op in Peekskill decided to investigate solar-energy options. Our co-op, with 28 live/work art lofts, is green-minded. Our recycling is extensive and community volunteerism is high, and our building has large, southern-facing roofs. Our electricity rates are among the highest in the nation. Who better to embrace solar power than an assortment of progressive, cost-conscious artists?

With interest high among our shareholders, the five-member board of directors formed a solar committee. As board president, I served on the committee, along with two shareholders. We quickly found three reputable area contractors, and initial appointments were made. All three had impressive pedigrees, and it was clear they could get this project done.

Our committee spent weeks researching the industry and tracking down requested electric-usage stats for all 28 shareholders. A detailed analysis of our property was done by each vendor. Shade from a nearby high-rise was factored in; satellite photos, maps, and charts were employed. When we asked one vendor about the energy-efficiency of the panels they’d install, we were told they won’t know until a $5,000 on-site assessment was completed. Another contractor pushed very hard for us to sign a letter of intent and pay a $5,000 fee to get the ball rolling. All three vendors stressed that as the November election approached, incentives were already beginning to disappear. We were warned that if we didn’t commit before November, we wouldn’t be able to lock in the remaining incentives, rebates, and tax credits. My fellow shareholders and I felt pressured, despite all three vendors’ assurances that they would hold our hand and navigate the best deal possible.

The cost estimates ranged from over $255,000 to over $300,000, which would cover all of our co-op’s electricity needs, including the lighting of common areas. After going through a major refinancing the year before and completing a host of capital improvements, we didn’t have this level of funding available. Things began to look dark for a solar solution.

We were then bogged down with the details of incentives and tax credits that could help defray costs. These included a federal tax credit, the NY-Sun PV incentive, the Weatherization Assistance Program, and the Con Ed Multifamily Energy Efficiency Program. There were also numerous NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) programs. Many, but not all, of these programs required application fees to ascertain our eligibility.

When the incentives and tax credits fell short of making the project affordable for us, our vendors switched gears. One option was that we lease our roof to a vendor for up to 30 years, which would create renewable clean energy. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get much of it. The vendors and their partners would pay to install systems on our roofs and then profit from the resulting energy as it was fed back into the grid. One vendor informed us that each shareholder would get an annual credit of $80 to $120 for the next 30 years. A pittance.

My two fellow committee members and I were exhausted by the research process and unhappy that the project’s financial feasibility was dim. I informed the board of our options: we either could pay for a system with our own cash, supplemented by whatever incentives and tax credits vendors scraped together; or we could commit to leasing our roof for 30 years and receive little financial benefit. The board voted to shelve the project.

We’re discouraged, but we’re not out of the game. We’re still keeping an eye on the industry, hoping prices come down and incentives come back. We’re waiting for that sunny day when solar energy becomes affordable for our limited-equity co-op.

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