Kathryn Farrell in Green Ideas on March 20, 2020
The long journey to solar success began back in 2012, when the board at McGowan Southworth’s 70-unit co-op in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, put a 50-kilowatt array of solar panels on the roof of the building. “We put all of our direct meters onto a master meter,” says Southworth, “and then put our own meters in. That way everybody pays for what they use. From the building standpoint, we paid off our loan in five years. There’s no cost left over. It’s just cash-positive.”
Along the way to success, Southworth’s co-op board learned that the process of reducing energy bills is all about asking the right questions – and finding the right answers. “Boards have been in the dark too long,” he says. “Understand where your energy comes from, and get educated on taxes. Most people default to the assumption their co-ops can’t take tax credits, but in actuality most can. We could have gotten a rehabilitation tax credit because we're low-income and we're in a historic building, but we didn't know about it at the time.”
The Sunset Park project was financed with a combination of grants from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, tax credits, and a loan from Amalgamated Bank.
In Sunset Park, submetering plus solar made sense. “With submetering,” says Southworth, “we're saving about $18 a month per unit, so that's roughly $15,000 annually.” The co-op also buys its energy from Con Ed in bulk, and with savings of one to two cents per kilowatt hour, that adds up to an additional $2,600 saved annually. “From solar, we're producing between 55 megawatt hours to 60 megawatt hours a year, and we're getting an average of 20 cents on that” – which means that the co-op has averaged $11,000 to $13,000 a year in credits to be applied to its energy bill. The board is using the combined $25,000 to $30,000 a year in savings to do more proactive capital improvements that will save even more money in the long term.
Over time, the benefits begin to snowball. Since the current solar array covers only about half of the building’s available roof space, the board is thinking bigger. “We're considering putting on a new solar array and doing it all over again because the tax credits cover almost 100 percent of the costs,” Southworth says. “We could double down; we could upgrade to the highest efficiency panels and potentially double our impact.”
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