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Think solar panels are only for suburban sprawl McMansions? Think again. While it does require owning your apartment (or having a really collaborative landlord), New Yorkers can install energy efficient and cash-saving panels, wallpaper designer and West Sider Alexis Audette told W42ST. 

Installation taking place yesterday at the co-op on W48th Street. Photo: Alexis Audette

Audette, who lives in a co-op on W48th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue and serves on its board, had long been interested in ways that the building could improve their environmental and fiscal sustainability.

“A few years ago, I read about solar energy in New York City residential buildings in the New York Times,” she said. “Then the pandemic swung into full force and everything got set aside. But this spring, we were just beginning to entertain projects again and I thought, ‘decarbonization is the way we have to go — if there’s any way that we can contribute, even at the micro level, I want to be a part of that.’” 

Looking for a local company to shepherd the board through the maze of city and state paperwork needed to install solar panels, Audette reached out to Brooklyn Solarworks, a hyperlocal solar energy company founded in 2015 which is well versed in the intricate details needed for New York City-specific solar panels. “They stood out to me, because they specialized in smaller buildings with flat roofs, like our building – it’s five stories tall and was built in 1884,” she added. 

Hell’s Kitchen is an ideal place for installing solar panels in Manhattan with its “bowl configuration.” Photo: Alexis Audette

After connecting with the team at Brooklyn Solarworks, Audette cleared the next hurdle with room to spare. “The board in this building is enlightened around sustainability, and very motivated by holding costs down to make sure that the building runs efficiently in a financially responsible way,” she said. “It became clear that all of the city and state tax incentives would help pay for the installation and it would pay for itself within three to five years. We thought: ‘it’s a win-win here.’” 

The panels will cover the cost of electricity for all of the common areas of the building, “so while it won’t reduce our individual electric bills, it will keep the building’s electricity covered through solar, resulting in a meaningful reduction in maintenance costs,” said Audette. She added that in an age of geopolitical resource instability, “it’s clear that having a reliable electricity source is prudent. Our nuclear plants are getting really old, and as they get retired or just less dependable, there are many reasons to make sure you have a safe and reliable source of electricity.”

But while convincing fellow board members to go solar may have been easy, Audette was overwhelmed by the endless approvals needed to actually implement the panels. Luckily, help was at hand: “Brooklyn Solarworks handles all of the permitting and tax issues – they guide you through everything and handle it on your behalf. I was amazed at how straightforward it’s been — it’s really been turnkey service.”

Workers from Brooklyn Solarworks hoisting up panels to the roof from W48th Street. Photo: Alexis Audette

Brooklyn Solarworks’ Digital Marketing Director, Katee Meese, told W42ST that alleviating customer paperwork is a key part of the company’s mission. The company strives to show management companies and building owners the benefits of urban solar panels by holding public demonstrations and partnering with local advocacy and environmental groups to spread the word. While most of their solar buildings are in Brooklyn, they’ve recently been expanding to the other boroughs including the Griswold Hall co-op in Jackson Heights as well as properties in Harlem, and of course, Hell’s Kitchen.

On W48th Street, Audette and the rest of the board are happy that they took the leap, and are looking forward to taking the residence into a new, more sustainable future. “I wondered if people would think of it as a lark, but it’s the combination of good financial management — in addition to the maintenance savings, installing solar panels also increases the property value — and the fact that people want to be part of something that moves us in the right direction that got people on board,” she said, adding: “Sometimes the state of the world can feel paralyzing,  and if you feel like you’re just doing something, even if just on your own roof, that’s going to make a difference.”

Alexis Audette with the solar panels on her Hell’s Kitchen rooftop. Photo: Alexis Audette

She hopes other Hell’s Kitchen buildings will follow suit “Manhattan has been slower to catch on — the other boroughs are outpacing us, and it’s partly because we have a lot of tall buildings,” said Audette. “But Hell’s Kitchen has this bowl configuration, so we’re uniquely well-suited for solar. We hope that if more people here knew how easy it was, what started as a project on our little roof could become a Manhattan solar empire!” 

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1 Comment

  1. Alesis Audette is right that solar panels are a great way to save money and help the environment, but I think there are a few things she left out.

    First of all, while it’s true that solar panels can increase the value of your property, I don’t think she mentioned that they could also be a significant upfront cost. For many people, the initial investment is simply too much.

    Second, while Alexis says that Hell’s Kitchen is “uniquely well-suited for solar,” I’m not sure that’s the whole story. Yes, the bowl configuration of the neighborhood means there’s more sun exposure, but it also means there are a lot of tall buildings casting shadows. I’m not sure how much that would impact the feasibility of solar panels.

    Finally, I think Alexis is right that people should be encouraged to install solar panels. Still, I don’t think her solution – “what started as a project on our little roof could become a Manhattan solar empire!” – is realistic. Solar panels are still only a drop in the bucket when reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. We need much bigger solutions if we’re going to make a dent in climate change.

    Still, I appreciate that Alexis is doing her part to raise awareness about solar panels and their potential benefits. I think more people should be encouraged to install them, whether that’s through financial incentives or simply more education about the benefits. Solar panels are one piece of the puzzle in fighting climate change, and we need all the help we can get.

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