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A Leaking Roof Prompts an Inwood Co-op To Go Solar

Emily Myers in Green Ideas



The solar installation at Park Terrace Arms Corporation provides energy for the building’s common areas. (Photo courtesy Pride Property Management)

Proving that something good can indeed come out of something bad, the Park Terrace Arms Corporation has turned a leaky roof into an energy-saving asset. Built in 1949, the six-story, 49- unit co-op is solving two problems at once by going solar, which will help it limit its emission penalties and save on energy costs. “If we hadn’t needed a new roof I’m not sure we’d have gone down this road,” says Robin Aronson, the co-op’s board president. 

The board spent months researching eco-friendly roofing solutions. After ruling out a green roof due to accessibility and maintenance issues, it decided on a net metering option, where the building’s solar production rolls back the building’s consumption meter. The alternative is community solar, where the building’s roof is used to host solar panels for a third party and the array produces electricity for the grid. 

The building recently switched out its boiler from No. 4 fuel oil to No. 2 — a cleaner oil now mandated by the city — but it still runs on fossil fuel. The primary goal of going solar was to avoid Local Law 97 penalties.  “We wanted to save money and did not want to be fined,” Aronson says. 

In order to install the panels, the building first needed to replace the roof. With funding from a mortgage, $600,000 was put towards the roof replacement and insulation. Some solar contractors install new roofs as part of their package, but the board did not take that route. “The building opted to independently install the roofing system to maintain better control over the quality of materials,” says property manager, Valon Rexhepi, of Pride Property Management

The solar installation cost $61,684 and the project was eligible for a $6,396 NYSERDA rebate. The board also installed a $16,254 public light and power system, allowing a separate electrical meter to take power from the panels to provide electricity to hallways, stairs and exterior lights. “It provides all the energy for our common areas,” Aronson says. 

A total of 66 panels were installed on a portion of the 4,500-square-foot roof, which went live in January. With net metering, the monthly credit from Con Edison is calculated at the same rate per kWh as the building buys electricity. However, under the program, a building cannot produce more electricity than it consumes. Alan Burchell, principal of rooftop specialist firm Urbanstrong, says this can often result in only a fraction of the available roof area being covered with panels, “thereby missing the roof's full potential to create revenue for the building.” 

While that was the case at Park Terrace, the upside for the co-op is considerable. Based on 2019 data, the building was looking at annual LL 97 fines of $33,400 starting in 2030, but the recent boiler upgrade, roof repair and solar installation have eliminated that, according to Rexhepi. “We are compliant if we continue the way the building is being maintained,” he explains, acknowledging that if there’s a particularly hard winter, it’s possible the building may exceed a future emission threshold.

An additional benefit of the solar installation for the co-op — where many shareholders are on a fixed income — is that it enables individual shareholders to apply for federal and state solar investment tax credits. Under current law, the tax credit is not refundable, so it only provides a benefit up to the amount of taxes owed. This means lower-income households might struggle to realize the full value of the credit. 

“It can be hard for a co-op to decide to invest in something that will unfairly benefit some shareholders but not others,” says Anika Wistar-Jones, managing director at the nonprofit Solar One, which advised Park Terrace on its solar options. Shareholders at Park Terrace Arms Corporation recently received letters from management with information on how to seek tax credits from the installation. Solar One is working to amend the law and expand solar tax credits to people with low or no tax liability, including seniors and those with low incomes.

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