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Is Going Solar The Solution For Meeting New York City's Energy Goals?


New York has been laying down the law when it comes to commercial buildings and carbon emissions.

Under Local Law 97, "most New York City buildings larger than 25K SF are required to meet new energy efficiency standards and limit their greenhouse gas emissions by 2024," or face significant fines. Longer-term, they will need to cut emissions by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

As a result, commercial building owners are scrambling to find ways to reduce their carbon footprint. One strategy they may want to consider is solar energy.

Jeffry Cohen, senior vice president of the commercial division at EmPower Solar, a solar and battery storage construction firm, said that while solar technology is not new, it has taken some time for New York City and Long Island building owners and developers to get on board with using it, in part due to its long payback period. Today, however, this is not the case.

“We’re now seeing drastically shorter payback periods and most systems installed in the boroughs will see a positive ROI within two to three years,” Cohen said.

To finance solar solutions, he said, building owners can use conventional lending or take advantage of government solutions, including property assessed clean energy, which help building owners cover the cost of installing energy-efficient solutions. 

“PACE is an assessment that gets put onto the tax bill, and you don’t start paying it until solar for the commercial building is operational and bringing in income,” Cohen said. “If a building is sold, the assessment travels from one owner to the next without issue. It’s an amazing tool that helps owners acquire energy efficiencies for their assets.”

Cohen said that building owners in the boroughs are also able to benefit from a property tax abatement in addition to federal tax credits and accelerated depreciation in an effort to monetize rooftops and parking areas that typically come at a cost. He said that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Public Service Commission are also currently proposing new rebates, which would make the solar initiatives even more attractive to building owners, especially with LL97 coming into effect in 2024. 

“Having financial incentives makes implementing solar a much more lucrative deal,” Cohen said. “Because New York is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, the state and local government is saying, ‘We need to help businesses lower their footprint,’ and the only way they can do that is through incentives.”

Cohen said that building owners are able to capitalize on multiple incentives, which would make commercial solar even more practical and accessible.

For help with navigating the process of installing solar technology, he said owners can work with an engineering, procurement and construction company like EmPower Solar, which has been installing solar panels throughout the five boroughs for 20 years.

Once building owners decide to move forward with implementing solar solutions, the next step would be to apply for interconnection with ConEd. Cohen said that the process may become even lengthier as LL97’s 2024 deadline approaches, as more building owners discover the benefits of solar and rush to submit interconnection applications.

“We have a department that focuses on getting interconnections, permits and everything else required for approval,” Cohen said. “Because interconnection is so critical and substation capacity is limited, it will be first movers who are able to benefit from solar and storage. Once an area substation is at capacity, there is no way to connect to the grid unless upgrades are implemented by the utility.”

For New York to reach its energy goals, however, it is important for everyone to be eventually connected to the grid. Despite the challenges that come with solar interconnection in New York, Cohen said that many buildings have already installed solar panels and that the state has been working to make improvements to the grid. 

He said that, in the end, widespread adoption of solar will come down to greater access and storage options, and ensuring that people are able to fund it. He noted that approving PACE was a great step toward assisting owners in the acquisition of solar, storage and every other energy-saving opportunity. 

“We’re going to see the installation of panels everywhere,” Cohen said. “It has to happen because it’s the only way to achieve the state’s goals and ultimately, to protect Mother Earth.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and EmPower Solar. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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