The June 3rd meeting, held by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, attracted a small but attentive group of residents eager to learn about the many ways to make their homes more eco-friendly.
"Why go green?" Crowley asked in her opening remarks. "Because we can help our environment and also save money." Crowley said she wants to make her district greener by cutting down on pollution and traffic while reducing energy costs.
Solar panels are one solution, said Chris Neidl, the Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator for Solar One, a Manhattan-based green energy education center.
Contrary to popular opinion, said Neidl, New York City is just as well if not better suited for solar panel use than other areas of the country famous for year-round sun exposure, such as Boulder, Colorado, or Southern California.
"New York is one of the best places to do solar," said Neidl. High electricity rates here, among the highest nationwide, have pushed residents in recent years to begin seriously considering energy alternatives, said Neidl.
And while residential solar panel systems are still relatively expensive, with the aid of state and federal grants New Yorkers can recuperate their initial investment through energy savings unusually fast.
"New York probably [has the] fastest payback period in the country," Neidl said.
Nowhere is it faster than in the outer boroughs, in Queens and Brooklyn especially, said Neidl, where low-density residential neighborhoods with vast expanses of flat roofs are just asking for solar panels. (With its multitude of tall buildings blocking sunlight, solar panels make less sense for most parts of Manhattan, according to Neidl). He said neighborhoods like Maspeth, with mostly two- and three-story houses, are ideal for solar panels.
The typical "pre-incentive" cost of a solar panel system for a three-story house is roughly $60,000, said Neidl, whose organization does not sell solar technology. But tremendous savings exist through a combination of federal, state, and city incentives.
These include the New York State Solar Rebate Program, which provides a discount of $16,000, the Federal Investment Tax Credit ($13,200), New York State Income Tax Credit ($5,000), and the New York City Property Tax Abatement ($15,400).
Adjusted to reflect the typical deductions available through these incentives, the average solar panel system costs just $10,400, said Neidl.
The average payback - or length of time it takes someone to earn back the cost of a solar panel system through energy savings - is less than ten years, said Neidl. After that, residents actually start saving money each year on their energy bills as they generate electricity of their own.
Neidl said this should be incentive enough for people paying high electricity rates across the city.
"We have very high electricity rates here and they're not going to go down," said Neidl. "The motivation to generate your electricity has strengthened greatly."
Solar panels are not the only way to go green, however. Following Neidl were three presenters who spoke about other energy efficiency measures Queens residents can take to reduce their carbon footprints and energy costs.
Diana Pangestu, an official with the New York State Energy Development Authority (NYSERDA) outlined the state's commitment to alternative energy, and the financial incentives available to interested homeowners.
Those looking for cheap, eco-friendly building materials for home improvement projects were encouraged by Justin Green to shop at Build It Green! NYC, a retail center that sells surplus and salvaged materials. Green, the non-profit's program director, said demand for recycled materials is growing fast.
Lynne Serpe, of the Community Environmental Center, a home weatherization program for low-income residents, said the number of existing programs and financial aid packages make this a ripe time for Queens to become more energy efficient.
"No matter what you want to do to your home, there's probably some money out there, so you should spend your time looking for it," Serpe said.