Go Solar helps buildings plug into sun for power

Anika Wistar-Jones, Solar One program manager (in blue coat), discusses a rooftop installation of solar panels with residents of an affordable co-op at 239 E. Second St. Photo by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | Eight years ago, Dennis Pfandler was looking into retrofitting the roof of his E. Second St. co-op with solar panels.

But back then, Pfandler said, solar panels were mostly a luxury for owners of single-family homes in the suburbs.

“Nobody wanted to come into Manhattan and give me an estimate because they didn’t want to have to deal with the city,” the longtime East Villager said.

At the time, the Department of Buildings and the Fire Department had not quite caught up to some residents’ desire to make their buildings more efficient, Pfandler said.

But this October, Pfandler’s building at E. Second St. and Avenue C finally was finally able to plug into sun power through the Co-ops Go Solar campaign. The effort is a partnership between two nonprofits, the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board and Solar One, to provide housing development fund corporation (H.D.F.C.) cooperatives with technical assistance to retrofit buildings with solar panels.

Solar One — which helps with the technical assistance — streamlined the whole process, said Pfandler, who works as a superintendent in the building. Solar One helped residents choose an installation company and, he said, “The next thing you know, we’re getting the roof coating done.”

Brooklyn SolarWorks, a Brooklyn-based solar installation company, installed 18 panels at Pfandler’s seven-unit building. Within four to five years, the money saved from going solar will make up for the $27,000 the building spent on the panels.

Pfandler expects the building to save $1,749 in the first year. Over the panels’ 25-year expected lifetime, the building will save $55,000.

“We’re going to be saving money down the road,” Pfandler said, adding it will be helpful in a building where many people are aging and will be on fixed incomes.

The solar panels at the E. Second St. co-op power the building’s water pump, laundry room, hallway lights and intercom.

Solar panels also could be installed to power individual apartments. But that depends on how much roof space there is, and whether the residents are aiming to lower individuals’ utility bills or keep the building’s overall operating costs lower, UHAB’s Clara Weinstein explained.

The solar panels function by channeling electricity into the larger “grid” that everyone citywide and beyond taps into to power their homes.

Any additional solar electricity the building produces — especially during the sunny, summer months — is sold back to Con Edison as a solar credit for the building to use during the winter months, at nighttime or on cloudy days, when the solar panels don’t produce as much electricity.

“It’s kind of like using the grid as one huge battery,” said Anika Wistar-Jones, Solar One program manager.

Pfandler’s co-op had the funds to purchase the panels, but for cash-strapped co-ops, there are other options, according to Solar One and UHAB.

One is low-interest loans that ensure loan payments are lower than the money saved through tax incentives and solar panels. Another way is with a “power purchase agreement,” where a third party owns the panels and sells electricity back to the co-op at a reduced rate.

“Solar savings should be available to all New Yorkers,” Wistar-Jones said. “We’re excited to be bringing affordable solar to affordable housing with this campaign.”

For more information, visit uhab.org/gosolar .

2 Responses to Go Solar helps buildings plug into sun for power

  1. Wow this is an amazing news, didnt know about solar this much

  2. Great job, beautiful blog with great informational content. This is a really interesting and informative post. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLWYXPUI4Ok

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