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Bill Would Ease Restrictions on Rooftop Solar Installations

New York City

Building carbon emissions, Local Law 97, rooftop solar panels, FDNY regulations, city council bill.
March 6, 2023

Money isn't the only obstacle for co-op and condo boards that want to install solar panels on their roofs as a way reducing their buildings' carbon emissions. Strict regulations by the Fire Department of New York often make it impractical to install solar panels, especially on smaller roofs.

To address the problem, several members of the city council have introduced a bill that would reduce the FDNY's spacing requirements, City Limits reports. The current code says rooftops must include a clear path of no less than six feet for big buildings and four feet for more compact ones. The bill aims to bring that clear-path requirement down to four feet for larger properties and three feet for smaller ones. The reduction still provides safe passage for firefighters to get through in case of an emergency, according to the bill's sponsors. 

“We can safely expand solar on our rooftops and significantly advance our climate goals if we get the regulations streamlined and updated to make solar installation more readily available for New Yorkers,” says one of the bill's co-sponsors, Lincoln Restler, a Democrat who represents northern Brooklyn.

Under the proposed rules, neighbors will also be given the option to team up and adjoin their rooftops so that they may be consolidated, making it easier for building owners to comply with the spacing requirements. Another option is to install solar panels on racks that allow firefighters to walk beneath them during an emergency.

“We have ambitious goals around solar implementation in New York City, but we are way behind in achieving them because government regulations keep getting in the way,” Restler adds.

There are over 43,000 rooftop solar projects on private residential properties in New York City, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). With over 1.6 billion square feet of rooftop space, New York City has enormous potential to bring more green energy into people’s homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Beginning next year under Local Law 97, owners of larger buildings will be required to bring their greenhouse gas emissions below prescribed caps, or face stiff penalties. The caps become more stringent in 2030 and in ensuing years.

There are a series of private financing programs that allow people to take out loans, as well as government incentives that ease the burden for homeowners and boards through tax abatements on the federal, state and city levels, such as the state-run NY- Sun program. The city-run NYC Accelerator is a free source of information and guidance for co-op and condo boards that want to undertake building retrofits.

“My sense is that between all the new incentives that are available, the biggest barriers right now are a little bit less on the money side and have more to do with the rules and regulations,” says Ben Furnas, former director of the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Sustainability.

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