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Boro shines as leader in solar installations

Workers Matt Hegge (l.) and Tyrone Ijeh from Solar Energy Systems install a panel in a solar roof at J. Sussman, Inc. in Jamaica in 2010
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

Queens saw a solar boom in 2011, when the borough almost doubled the number of solar panel installations that had been put in between 2003 and 2010 to make the borough first in the city, according to a new report.

Between 2003 and 2010, there were 62 solar panel installations in Queens, according to the Center for an Urban Future’s “Here Comes the Sun” report, which found that New York City still has a long way to go in keeping up with the rest of the state.

With another 58 installations in 2011, Queens’ 120 solar panel installations over the past five years ranked it 12th among New York state’s counties. Suffolk County’s 3,416 installations over that time period ranked it first, and Nassau County came in second with 1,432 installations.

The report cited several reasons for the city’s lag, but did note it was making up some ground.

Factors including the height of buildings, shade that covers many rooftops and older roofs that lack the structural stability to support solar collectors all make it more difficult to install the panels in the city.

Through interviews with five executives at companies that install solar panels, the center also found that New York City is the most expensive place in the state to install a solar system.

“Typically it costs $2 or $3 more per watt than anywhere else,” Mike Brennan, a field technician with Mercury Solar, is quoted in the report. “So the cost for the same roof could be $10,000 more [in New York City].”

Another executive was quoted as saying the city’s red tape presents challenges.

“It is much easier to do a job in Nassau or Westchester,” Mark Chandarpal, principal at Go Solar Green, said. “There is less paperwork, less building permits and fewer expenses. In New York City, we have to go through more agencies for approval and the overall time spent is longer. Just to get an engineer to do a drawing for an installation costs nothing less than $4,500. But in Nassau County, a homeowner can just file for a permit, and has to just pay a filing fee, which is about a couple hundred bucks. That is a big difference.”

The report did credit Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration with taking steps to streamline the process, including examining a centralized website for permits as well as modifying city codes and regulations.

In 2008, the city began offering a tax abatement for solar panels, and in the same year the state began to offer a grant offsetting costs. After the incentives kicked in, installations across the state started to surge, and while the city still lags behind, its 783 percent increase between 2008 and 2011 outpaced the statewide growth of 275 percent.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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