Inside Flatbush’s First Community Solar Garden

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Building at a glance

Client: Crescent Arms

Address: 628 East 17th Street, Flatbush Brooklyn, New York

Sector: Commercial/Multi-Family

Size (in kW): 84.49

Year: 2019

Cost to Building: $0

Total PTA: $40,000

Annual Building Savings: $4,200

New York City has remained at the forefront of the green energy movement, providing both companies and buildings lucrative opportunities to participate in the burgeoning energy revolution. UrbnDER took advantage of these opportunities which led directly to our first completed Community Solar Garden, housed on an apartment building in Flatbush. The project, which has been commissioned and operational for over a month, represents the meticulous effort and energy necessary to launch any Urbnder installation.

We were fortunate to collaborate with Crescent Arms on this project, who recognized the untapped value of their unused roof space, and saw that a CSG could prove beneficial for the building, the building owner, and the local community.


In exchange for a 20-year roof lease, Crescent Arms now houses a 85 kW solar system made up of 236 high-efficiency solar panels. While Urbnder handles all matters concerning the system’s maintenance and operation, Crescent Arms receives government-sponsored financial incentives and an annual lease payment. The system was successfully commissioned on May, 14th, 2019. We’d like to help you understand how it came together.

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Evaluating the building for community solar

Before moving forward with a comprehensive feasibility study, a number of factors must be considered to determine suitability for our Community Solar program. Fortunately, Crescent Arms’s building at 628 E 17th Street met the criteria for a strong potential site.

First and foremost, the building has ample available roof space (10,000 square feet) on which panels could be installed.

Secondly, the roof itself is relatively new (less than ten years old) which eliminated the need to consider roof repair or replacement as a potential cost.. Likewise, there are no surrounding buildings (existing or planned) that would cause excessive shading

Beyond those factors, Crescent Arms is a multi-family building with primarily low- and middle-income (LMI) tenants, all of whom could act as potential subscribers to buy back the energy produced by the system at a discounted rate.

Finally, from the client’s perspective, the project was financially compelling. The building would receive the Property Tax Abatement (roughly $40,000) and, in lieu of a lease, 100% of the building’s common area electricity for free (roughly $4,200 per year).

After both sides agreed to move forward with the project, Urbnder took all the necessary precautions to ensure the installation could proceed according to plan. First, we completed a feasibility study by measuring out the roof and guaranteeing the viability of the proposed system. Second, we looked at the existing electrical system and determined that it could handle the generated energy. Finally, we submitted an interconnection application with the utility provider to see if any grid upgrades would be necessary, which they were not.

After this due-diligence process, we were able to move forward with the installation.

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Installing the system: Start to finish

This project was  managed by Urbnder co-founder and CEO Russell Wilcox, who spent the entirety of the two-week installation period on site, overseeing construction.

The crew of electricians and solar technicians installed rows upon rows of racking equipment, ballast blocks, and, eventually, the solar panels and their appropriate wiring, running the system through conduit down along the exterior of the building and into the electrical room.

Russell came into the project well-equipped to handle any issues, should they arise. Having overseen dozens of installations in New York City with a previous company, and hundreds of residential projects in the region prior to that, Russell possessed all the solar experience necessary to install a commercial system. Russell earned his Solar Installation Professional Certification through NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) in 2016, and Urbnder is a certified NYSERDA Contractor.

The project had some unique structural and design challenges, particularly the 11 pre-war dumbwaiters interspersed throughout the roof which would cause significant shading to the solar panels. During the design phase, Urbnder weighed the cost-benefit of removing the structures and ultimately decided to do so. A specialized team removed the dumbwaiters and the building's roofer roofed the resulting holds. All-in-all, removing the impeding structures increased system production by 30%.

The project was installed on-schedule and went online following the necessary inspections by the Department of Buildings and ConEdison.

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The project in its current state

The system was commissioned following installation and has remained online and operational since then. Urbnder has taken every precaution to ensure that the system will continue to function at a high level for the duration of the 20-year lease. All of the solar panels and additional solar equipment have 25-year warranties, should something malfunction, and everything is monitored online on a panel-by-panel basis. We also have an in-house operations and maintenance crew that manages the system post-installation.

This is one of thirty buildings in the Crescent Arms portfolio of buildings under ownership and management. Crescent Arms continues to utilize this installation as a passive income stream and is looking forward to future projects.

Are you interested in learning more about community solar for your property? We’d be happy to evaluate your building, or simply field your questions and concerns.