HABITAT

GREEN IDEAS

Now Everyone Can Tap Into Solar Energy

Bill Morris in Green Ideas on March 8, 2018

East New York, Brooklyn

Community Solar

The "community solar" panel array in East New York (image courtesy Daroga Power).

March 8, 2018

A growing army of New York City co-ops and condos have enlisted in the solar energy revolution, but many others have had trouble overcoming stubborn obstacles. These include upfront costs, fire regulations, inadequate roof space, even tall neighboring buildings that block sunlight. 

A new system called “community shared solar” overcomes all those obstacles – and the very first array in New York City is ready to be switched on. Daroga Power, working in conjunction with the nonprofit Solar One, has installed 3,000 solar panels on two flat warehouse roofs in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood. The array will generate 1 megawatt of electricity, enough to offset a portion of the electricity use in up to 300 apartments. The program offers renewable 12-month subscriptions for solar energy credits to residential or small commercial Con Ed customers throughout the five boroughs, including renters and residents of co-ops and condos. The credits carry a 10 percent discount. For every dollar of savings, the utility customer pays Daroga Power 90 cents. 

“The array is fully installed and awaiting Con Ed inspection, then they’ll flip the switch,” says Anika Wistar-Jones, affordable solar program manager for Solar One. “Anyone who wants to be a part of it just sends their account number to Daroga Power.” You can sign up here

Wistar-Jones says that when Solar One was vetting Daroga Power, they were attracted by the company’s business model. Developers of community solar projects elsewhere frequently require a 20-year contract. They also do a credit check, which blocks many residents of affordable housing from participating. Daroga Power has a 12-month contract, which can be transferred if the customer moves within the five boroughs, or cancelled at no cost if the customer moves out of the city. Daroga does not do a credit check. 

One early adopter of the city’s first community solar project is Myral Chernick, president of a 12-unit co-op on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “We wanted to put solar panels on the building,” she says, “and we got pretty far in the process. But the loan didn’t work out because we’re not completely owner-occupied, we have some sublets. We heard about community solar through Solar One, and I signed up. Now I’m just waiting. A 10 percent discount is not a lot, but every little bit helps. If this is successful, maybe they’ll put up more community solar projects.” 

It’s already in the works, according to David Matt, principal at Daroga Power, a solar development and financing firm that owns the East New York solar array. “We have eight more megawatts of community solar we’re financing right now, scattered around the outer boroughs,” Matt says. “They should be online later this year.” The power generated by community solar projects, he adds, goes back into the grid. 

For Solar One’s Wistar-Jones, a great appeal of community solar is that it’s democratic. It’s available to everyone everywhere – rich or poor, owner or renter, Inwood or Rockaways, sunny or shady. “My favorite story about this East New York array is that the tenants in a homeless shelter in Manhattan are starting the process,” she says. “Community solar makes that possible. And that’s very exciting.”

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