The sun also shines on Harlem — and solar power co-op wants to make some …

August 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Harlem residents are finding a way to make dollars and sense out of solar panels — forming an energy co-op.

The Harlem Solar Cooperative, a network of more than 50 uptown residents, businesses, and community organizations, will use collective ownership to more easily access the benefits of solar energy.

“Our big vision is not only to put solar panels on rooftops, save some energy, and save some money, but also to make Harlem-based green jobs,” said Brian Smith, the co-op’s founder and an environmental consultant. “We want to make a green industry in Harlem.”

Members buy a share in the co-op and in return, they get a percentage of the energy profits whenever panels are hooked up and start collecting energy.

The idea came to Smith when he moved to Harlem, looked at the rooftops and saw an urban version of the Great Plains — acres of sunny, open space to generate clean electricity.

“The Harlem area has rows and rows of largely flat, sunny, and unobstructed brownstones,” he said. “It really makes it an ideal place in the city for solar.”

But Harlem couple Yvette Leeper-Bueno and Adrian Bueno are familiar with the challenges preventing the whole neighborhood from slapping up panels.

“It was very difficult to navigate the city and state rebate policies,” said Adrian Bueno, referring to tax credits intended to promote solar installations. “They were asking for so many things it was ridiculous.”

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The Buenos invested $40,000 to “greenovate” their brownstone in 2010 with 10 panels on the roof.

In the end, they didn’t get any of the rebates.

“We were pioneers navigating this system,” Leeper-Bueno said.

But Smith said his solar co-op will help cut the red tape and reduce costs. Better still, members of the co-op can participate in the solar power revolution even if their roof doesn’t have room for panels.

There are clear benefits to fuel from solar electrons: Sugar Hill Inn, which went solar in 2007, halved its electricity bill, but the cash savings didn’t start until this year.

“The general consensus is that (the panels) will take about seven years to pay for themselves,” said Jeremy Archer, owner of the Inn. “But that (is) a long way out for most people.”

Smith says his co-op is currently in the process of getting contractors to offer estimates for 10-20 viable rooftop options, and he hopes to get the electricity meters clocking backwards before the snow starts.

“Solar is booming everywhere, and it should be booming in Harlem, too,” he said.

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