Bill promises to make it easier for New Yorkers to install rooftop solar panels

City councilors introduced new legislation Thursday to change the city’s fire code and allow homeowners more space on their roofs to install solar panels.

Brooklyn Solar Works

A Brooklyn Solar Works rooftop installation. The company raises its solar panels to meet the space requirements of the city’s fire code.

City Council members introduced a bill on Thursday to relax regulations for installing solar panels, proposing a change to the fire department code that would lessen space requirements that prevent their use on city rooftops.

Current code says that roofs must include a clear path of not less than six feet for large buildings and four feet for more compact ones. The bill aims to reduce that clear path requirement to four feet for larger properties and three feet for smaller ones. The reduction still provides safe passage for firefighters to pass through in the event of an emergency, according to City Council members.

“We can safely expand solar on our rooftops and significantly advance our climate goals by simplifying and updating regulations to make solar installation more available to New Yorkers,” Councilman Lincoln Restler, a co-sponsor of the bill, told City Limits. bill.

Under the proposed rules, neighbors will also have the option to join and join their roofs so they can consolidate, making it easier for building owners to meet space requirements.

“We have ambitious goals around going solar in New York City, but we are way behind in achieving them because government regulations keep getting in the way,” Restler added.

Since last year, the city has installed solar panels on 110 city-owned buildings, meeting only 16 percent of their de Blasio era compromise build 100 megawatts of publicly owned rooftop solar capacity by 2025.

When it comes to private residential property, there is more 43,000 rooftop solar projects in New York City, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). More than 1.6 billion square feet of rooftop space, New York City has tremendous potential to bring more green energy into people’s homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But there are many barriers that prevent people from switching to solar energy. For one, the commitment requires a significant up-front investment: In 2022, the average residential solar system costs $30,374 before incentives, according to NYSERDA.

There are a number of private financing programs that allow people to obtain loans, as well as government incentives that ease the burden on homeowners through tax breaks at the federal, state, and municipal levels, such as state new york-sun program.

“My feeling is that among all the new incentives that are available, the biggest barriers right now are a little less on the money side and more to do with rules and regulations,” said Ben Furnas, former director of the Office of the Mayor. of Climate and Sustainability.

Last August, owner Ann Korchak, who is also president of Small Property Owners of NewYork, said she contacted the New York City Accelerator Program to discuss solar power. The Accelerator provides resources and guidance to help building owners improve energy efficiency.

They took a look at his two Upper West Side properties using Google maps, but concluded that there simply wasn’t enough space on his rooftop to accommodate enough solar power.

“Due to the size of the building, there are certainly limitations. Some of them have to do with safety because the fire department has rules about how many things can be put on the roof, they have to be able to get from one side of the roof to the other if there is a fire emergency,” Korchak said.

Industry experts say the bureaucratic hurdles New York City homeowners face are one of the main reasons people don’t go solar.

“People want to sign up and they think that next week they will have solar panels on their roof. But in New York City, it’s a lengthy process with a lot of scrutiny,” Steve Nelson, vice president of sales for a local solar company, Brooklyn Solar Works, told City Limits.

The solar energy specialist says it can take up to three months to get permission to start.

“And then there’s the fire department road. He wants the fire department to do what is safe for the city and for themselves, but we have a high level of scrutiny about where we can put panels and how we comply, which drives up costs and increases solar deployment.” added Nelson.

The FDNY did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the legislation.

Nelson’s company circumvents fire code restrictions by using a creative solution: they elevate the solar panels on a canopy. This clears the way below so that in the event of an emergency the fire department can still have wide access.

However, there are still a number of other limitations imposed by the Zoning Resolution that experts say need to be reviewed. The rules stipulate that solar power systems can only go up to 15 feet and occupy up to 25 percent of the roof, which can be a problem for some buildings.

Still, Nelson says changing the fire code “would be a big” step forward.

“Even with the raised canopy, sometimes there are non-compliant roofs because a part of the structure may need to land in the path of the fire,” Nelson explained. “A smaller fire route, regardless of the type of facility, would simplify things.”

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