We expect moaning and groaning from building owners – both commercial and multifamily – about the Mayor’s recent mandate designed to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions. If the mandate passes into legislation (the City Council is the deciding player in that decision), it will mean work. Changes in operations. And it will mean cost. But to use an old line from Jane Fonda’s fitness programs – no pain, no gain – and there are gains that can result from the mandate for both building owners and the city.

While short on a lot of specifics, the mandate made a few things clear. It will affect about 23,000 older buildings of 25,000 square feet and up, of which 14,500 are considered the least efficient and estimated to produce 24 percent of the City’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The mandated fossil fuel reductions will, according to the Mayor’s office, require building owners to make improvements to boilers, heat distribution, hot water heaters, roofs and windows. Fossil fuels used for heat and hot water in buildings are the city’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Penalties for failure to meet goals would be determined by building size and how much targets are exceeded. Landlords would not be allowed to displace tenants or raise rents to meet requirements. Targets would be set by 2020 with compliance by 2035.

Now here’s the good news. It’s a big step in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions which is necessary for climate control. The time frame allows for flexibility on what needs to be done when and for the ability to plan for and refinance as needed. There will be help available for financing, in sharing best practices and technical services from public sources. Ultimately, the reductions will result in lower energy costs and a more desirable and comfortable environment for tenants.

Citywide, the reductions will be the equivalent of taking 900,000 cars off the road; reduce the prevalence of asthma from air pollution by creating cleaner air; and, according to the Mayor’s office create 17,000 new “green” jobs.

If you’re among the 14,500 least-efficient buildings being targeted, it may be a long and winding road to a retrofit in compliance. But the Mayor is committed to making New York City a world leader of green cities. This mandate is the first of it kind in the country. Expect more.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

There is something very valuable, free to everyone in New York City if the means to capitalize on it are created. It’s called sunlight, an endless renewable resource. It’s sustainable, inexhaustible and it’s free, folks. All you have to do to set the process of acquiring free energy forever (yes, we said free again and forever) is embrace the process of installing solar.

We’ve been writing about solar for quite a few years. From its infancy as a novel, difficult and expensive process, to its evolution from single family residences, to multi-family, to commercial.

As the only LEED-AP BD +C commercial real estate appraiser in New York City, I am always on the alert for ways property owners can build value with energy savings and sustainable practices. I can say with certainty that solar power will increase the value of your property as a result of energy cost savings, and enhanced green positioning and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution that will certainly accrue to the bottom line. It also positions a building owner as a responsible corporate citizen.

Now, the biggest installation of solar in multi-family housing in the U.S. has been announced. The owners of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village plan to convert the complex’s 56 buildings to solar. According to news sources, they’ll be spending about $10 million to install 10,000 panels. Making the process feasible: the buildings all have flat roofs. (The original story appeared in the print edition of The Wall Street Journal on November 8th.)

Installing solar is not easy. Or inexpensive. Or, even at this point in time, always worth it. There remain many variables. When you have a multi-story commercial or residential tower, the equation/ratio of what and how many solar panels can be installed vs. how much energy is generated and the length of the ROI can be a complex equation. StuyTown’s owners don’t expect to have a significant ROI but had other, compelling reasons for the installation.

Complexity aside, what is required to embrace solar and all of its benefits, starts with a commitment to convert to renewable energy.

The good news is that costs for installing solar are going down everywhere in tandem with increased efficiency of as much as 70%. The speed of solar technology innovations in the last decade, and particularly in the last few years, has been breathtaking. Advances include new designs that better complement structures; ground-level solar tracking that allows panels to follow the sun; solar glass windows; a solar paint in development; and MIT working on a technology that would harness the waste heat of today’s solar panels.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Having explored the many benefits of installing a green roof, now we’ll explore some of the complications, expenses and long-term commitments when you choose to turn an ugly, underused part of a building’s real estate into a major asset.

Green roofs are a costly undertaking as you can’t simply buy some plants, put them in pots on your roof and call it a garden. You’ll need to know your building’s load capacity; usage (will it only be viewed or be used as garden space?); what part of the roof you will green (exposures will vary greatly); whether to install an intensive green roof which is thicker, deeper, heavier and supports more plants, but requires more maintenance; or extensive which is shallower, lighter and more minimal maintenance; whether you opt for a modular vegetated roof, an alternative to the built-in roof where mobility makes it easier to do roof repairs and is quicker to achieve completion (but costs somewhat more); what plants will be used; and what systems will be used for root barrier, drainage and irrigation.

We hope we haven’t lost you yet because the ROI can be extraordinary which is one of the reasons green roofs and private gardens are also exploding on the residential front.

You are going to need a professional engineer and registered architect to do a structural analysis to determine if your roof can sustain vegetation or needs reinforcement; an architect/landscape designer and/or green roof specialist to design and install the system; and a big budget.
A decision will also need to made on the type of planting and systems to be used – from relatively simple sedum and grasses to a veritable forest – that fit your budget, climate, facility and goals. The latest trend is to go with native plantings.

The Mayor’s Office on Sustainability offers a green roof tax abatement. In 2008, New York City and State passed legislation – now available through March 15, 2018 – of $4.50 per square foot (up to $100,000 or the building’s tax liability, whichever is less). To qualify, your installation must be at least 50% of rooftop space.

Some prominent buildings in NYC that have installed green roofs include Rockefeller Center; the Empire State Building; Javits Center; Brooklyn Academy of Music; the Parks Department’s Five Borough Administrative Building on Randalls Island; Zeckendorf Towers on Union Square; the rooftop farm at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; the New School’s LEED-Gold student center; and the Bronx County Courthouse, the first of its kind in the borough.

The largest green roof in New York City is in midtown Manhattan atop the U.S. Postal Service’s Morgan Processing and Distribution Center.

The funkiest – and award-winning – green roof includes plastic rocks, artificial boxwoods, clear crushed glass and recycled rubber mulch. It’s on top of the Museum of Modern Art and, although visible, it’s inaccessible.

Among the latest news is Macy’s interest in creating a rooftop restaurant and garden at Herald Square; the green wall at the top of The Knickerbocker Hotel; and, though we know it’s not the roof although it’s green, the renovation of the glass pyramid Apple store uptown which is expected to include a grove of potted trees.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

You’ve maximized your building’s energy efficiency. Retrofitted the lighting. Upgraded HVAC. Switched to green cleaning products. Have a top-notch recycling program. You’re good. You’re green. Nope.

As New Yorkers, we are disinclined to look up, but if you want to be part of the next, great green building revolution, look to your roof.

Green roofs are gorgeous living architecture – visible, beautiful, usable and valuable to tenants and building owners, as well as migratory wildlife. With the exception of going solar, greening a property’s roof may well be the last, grand, green frontier, and New York City building owners are embracing its worth.

‘Developers and architects see the value in rooftop spaces and terraces planted with beautiful, functional gardens,” says Howard K. Freilich, president and CEO of Blondie’s Treehouse. “We are seeing a steady stream of new projects in Brooklyn and throughout New York, with a real focus on native plantings.” Freilich should know. His Manhattan-based firm is one of the largest horticultural firms in the U.S. known for innovative designs and excellent customer care.

The benefits of green roofs are numerous and quite compelling. The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) has in-depth information on how green roofs reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect. New York City is a vast summertime heat island with a negative impact on energy, water and health. Vegetative roofs act as building insulators, reducing energy usage and the extent and cost of air conditioning and heat as well as reduce air pollution and greenhouse gasses. According to the EPA, “On hot summer days, the surface temperature of a green roof can be cooler than the air temperature, whereas the surface of a conventional rooftop can be up to 90 degrees warmer.”

Then there’s stormwater management, no small issue in New York City. Green roofs help control runoff as vegetation absorbs water that, as runoff, contains a high amount of pollution and contaminants. With so much of the City’s surfaces impervious, runoff can cause sewer overflow which empties into the city’s waterways.

Green roofs can also extend roof life, reduce AC and heating costs, serve as a stormwater management tool and fire retardant, reduce noise, contribute to air quality and greatly enhance a property’s marketability and value by providing viewable or useable garden and recreational space. They can also be used for sustainability points for certifications and give an owner bragging rights on their building’s green profile.

In Part II, we’ll explore some of the challenges of building a green roof and some of the City’s prominent buildings which are already featuring – and championing – green roofs.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Recently, the Discovery Channel went fearlessly into its annual Shark Week. This year’s line-up included a one hour show: “Sharks and The City: New York”, narrated by none other than Chris Noth, Mr. Big from Sex and the City. There was also a special appearance by singer Seal who becomes a shark snack. (You can’t make these things up.)

Levity and puns aside, there is real scientific news which is also great environmental news about great white sharks returning to New York City waters. Are they here yet? No, at least not in the harbor. But there is hope as well as belief that they will be. The signs are all there.

Forget “Jaws”, the seminal movie that scared the hell out of an entire generation. The return of great white sharks to our area after more than three centuries is great news. It means cleaner water and that ecological balance is once more being achieved.

We understand that that the thought of swimming with sharks evokes a primordial fear. But great whites get a bad rap. For one thing, they are far from the vicious, man-eating killers people think they are. Yes, they’re predators but most people survive being bitten by a great white, which probably happened because they mistook a human for their natural prey. True, their size can inflict great damage with only one big “test” bite from 300 or so sharp teeth. But, they are far from being as aggressive as bull and tiger sharks. Overall, a person is much more likely to die from a wasp or bee bite or being struck by lightning than from a shark attack.

Great whites are naturally curious. If they see something, they taste it to see if it’s to their liking. Great white bites of boats, buoys and surfboards attest to the one bite and nope, not tasty, conclusion. Humans fall into that category. To a great white, we are way too bony, unlike their favorite prey – plump seals with a thick layer of fat.

Which brings us to more good news in the ecological circle. Where there are seals, great white sharks are usually not far behind. Ravaged by hunting, pollution and habitat changes, for the first time in over 200 hundred years, harbor seals are back in New York. They are primarily congregating on rocky, man-made Swinburne Island off the coast of Brooklyn, near the Verrazano Bridge.

For now, no great whites have been tracked to New York harbor. Marine biologist Craig O’ Connell has been tracking and tagging sharks around New York’s waters for a decade. He has found a shark nursery of 9 tagged juveniles out at Montauk. And let’s not forget the famous great white, Mary Lee (who has her own faithful following and Twitter page) who has been known to enjoy summering around the Jersey Shore and East Hampton.

Time will tell whether great whites will become abundant in New York City’s waters. It they do, it will be good news as the sharks are important to the ocean’s ecology. The exception would be the re-appearance of the megalodon (you saw an approximation of this huge species in Jurassic World) which would make great whites run for cover. (And, yes, you’d need a bigger boat.)

We’d be remiss not to at least reference “Sharknado 2: The Second One’ because it takes place in New York City. As our hero Fin Shepherd says, “I know you’re scared. I’m scared too. They’re sharks. They’re scary…I’m here to tell you it takes a lot more to bring a good man down. A lot more than that to bring a New Yorker down.”

Yep. You can’t make these things up.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

In the never ending quest for sustainability, Los Angeles is experimenting with sealing their hottest streets with a new asphalt coating created to increase solar reflectivity and, thereby, lower street temperatures.

Los Angeles, like New York City, suffers from the Urban Heat Island Effect, wherein densely populated and built environments are as much as 20 degrees hotter than outlying areas. According to the U.S. EPA, “Heat islands can affect communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality.”

Can a coolant seal reverse that effect? According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles is betting big – about $40,000 per mile – that it can. (Typical sealants run significantly less in cost.)The City recently applied its first coating of CoolSeal, which is light gray, in the hottest area in the San Fernando Valley, Canoga Park, on streets lined with two-story apartment buildings. Plans are to duplicate the experiment in 14 other council districts.

Does it work? According to the Los Angeles Daily News, using a handheld thermometer, the newly solar-reflective coated street in Canoga Park read a cool 70 degrees, as compared to a nearby black asphalt street where the temperature read 93 degrees.

CoolSeal is a product of California-based GuardTop LLC which says that the product will last seven years and “produce measurable reductions in temperatures.”

The U.S. EPA defines cool pavements as those that “reflect more solar energy, enhance water evaporation, or have been otherwise modified to remain cooler than conventional pavements.” They consider cool pavements to be important in mitigating the Urban Heat Island Effect. As there are no official standards to define cool paving materials as yet, the Transportation Research Board has formed a subcommittee to initiate an in-depth exploration.

One of the reasons research on cool pavements has lagged well behind technology for cool roofs is because pavement is considerably more complex, involving pedestrian, car and other traffic impact, landscaping, varying usages, changing shadows and thermal influences. Roofing is concerned with reflectivity only which can be achieved with a coating of products bought off the shelf.
There is much scientific testing to be done and standards to be set to advance the use of cool pavements. But, given the current interest and beginning momentum, before long, cool pavements may give new meaning to The Great (Cooler) White Way.

BTW, in answer to the long held belief that you can fry an egg on the sidewalk in very hot weather, all of the sources we checked said no. Why? Because sidewalks are lighter in color and don’t absorb as much heat as asphalt. So, can you fry an egg on asphalt? Yes. But it has to be at least 130 degrees which begs the question, “Why would you even want to try?”

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

There are house cats, stray cats, cartoon cats, historic cats, film cats and famous cats, but we don’t hear much about working cats, at least since ancient days when they were employed to prevent grain from being eaten by rodents. According to the research journal Science, those days were, give or take, 12,000 years ago.

The Science study authors called the development which led to the domestication of wild cats, “one of the more successful ‘biological experiments’ ever undertaken.” The cats loved the steady diet of rodents; the humans loved the cost-free pest control; and the rodents didn’t like anything about the arrangement.

Cats are brilliant killing machines, with an exceptionally wide range of prey – in the thousands – and distinct characteristics. The latter includes hearing of 64000 Hz (dogs: 45000 Hz; humans: 20 Hz to 20 kHz); an acute sense of smell, 14 times greater than human; extraordinary flexibility; short muzzles with a very strong bite; teeth that can crunch bones; and detached collar bones (which is one way cats get into tiny spaces). In short, domestic cats are some of the deadliest predators on earth. It moves; they pounce. You think your kitten chasing the laser dot is cute, but that fuzz ball thinks he’s killing something.

In juxtaposition to the millions of pampered house cats today, are the millions of homeless feral cats who have not been exposed to human interaction. With a harsh existence and short life span, they do not live the lush life. But, at least for some, we may be circling right back to the earliest of times.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal’s Keiko Morris wrote an eye-opening piece about The Javits Center pest-control team, that being feral cats. A sustainability report, “Greening America’s Busiest Convention Center”, cited the cats as a safer, healthier, “greener” way to deal with rodents than the noxious effects of chemicals and their cost. Even better, with cats present, mice and rats pick up their scent and don’t even bother to drop in. In short, feral cats are the new green.

There currently are no groups we found (correct us if we’re wrong) that are rescuing ferals with the specific purpose of having them serve as working cats in New York City. (The NYC Feral Cat Initiative of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals does not provide cats for the purpose of rodent control.) Then again, feed a feral cat, and you’ve found a new friend who will bring its friends.

Deli and bodega cats have long been around in New York City. The cats are illegal and store owners can be cited for health violations. And yet they can also be cited for signs of mice and rats. Who would you rather see at the bodega? If you remember the sensational video of rats gone wild at a downtown Sixth Avenue KFC/Taco Bell, my guess is you’d also prefer to see a furball who purrs.

New York City is not the leader in commercial homes for feral cats. That honor goes to Chicago where the “Tree House Cats at Work Project” has set the bar for removing at-risk feral cats from dangerous situations and, after vetting and sterilization, relocating them to places where they can control the rodent population. The cost for three feral cats from Tree House is $600 with a waiting list.

CNN called the Chicago program the “Ultimate Weapon in Public Health” and The Wall Street Journal called working cats the “new must-have accessory”.

With the City’s war on rats an extraordinary failure through the reign of 108 mayors and counting, perhaps the world’s greatest and most adorable predator will be our long-awaited answer.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

In 2000, Edward Rutherfurd wrote an epic book entitled “New York: The Novel.” Beginning with the early settlement of the city, it covered centuries of expansion and development through the eyes of fictional families interwoven with historical figures. I found the beginning of the book to be particularly interesting as it described the wilderness that was then Manhattan, called Mannahatta – island of many hills – by the indigenous Lenape people. (We would bet the farm you had no idea until now how Manhattan got its name.)

The development of commerce and northward ho of the population intrigued me less than the descriptions of Manhattan au naturel, if you will. Hills, yes. But also ponds, streams, springs, salt marshes, forests, wetlands and, from the tip of Manhattan through Harlem, oak trees in tremendous density and prodigious wildlife – turkey, elk, black bear, wolves, deer, ducks, and beavers. The latter were killed on such a vast scale in early New York that the population was decimated, although its abundance is commemorated on the seal of the City of New York with two beavers (we bet you didn’t know that either).

In 2007, to the astonishment of everyone, including the hard-working people who have been cleaning up the Bronx River since the 1970s, a beaver was discovered to have built its lodge by a river bank near the Bronx Zoo. Jose, as he became known, was the first beaver seen in New York City in more than 200 years.

But I digress. With all due respect to Jose and his new companion, Justin (after Bieber; I kid you not) this post is to bring to your attention the remarkable healthy effects of Central Park on the city and its people.

Central Park was the first major, planned and landscaped public park in the U.S. Originally 750 acres and expanded to 853, hidden among its verdant, winding paths are prehistoric rock formations, waterfalls (all man-made), bridges, fountains, bodies of water, benches, monuments, statues, gardens, gondoliers, a boathouse, a zoo and a castle.

The original creators of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, understood that this immense, protected park would be an inspiration, a form of escape, mentally and physically from the relentless urbanization of the island, a place of serenity and healthy endeavors for the city’s occupants, and stand as a symbol of civility. They were right on all counts in 1858 when they presented their plan, 159 years ago.

The Central Park Conservancy (“Official Caretakers of Central Park”) recently published a blog post about “How Central Park Keeps New York City Healthy.” We urge you to go to their website (centralparknyc.org) and read how the trees (more than 20,000) increase oxygen and keep the city cooler; provides outdoor access for healthy exercise, as well as solitude; and is a thriving habitat for a range of wildlife.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Oh those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags! While inroads have been made, such as recycling and reuse programs (New York, Maine) and banning their use (California, Hawaii), plastic grocery/take-out bags have a large presence in our lives. Every year, 88 million tons of them are manufactured. And, every year, they continue to strain landfills and harm oceans, rivers, forests and wildlife.

Have you heard that it takes 500 or even 1,000 years for a plastic carryout bag to degrade? And, have you wondered, as we haven’t been using them for more than half a century, how would anyone know?

The answer is scientific testing. Carryout bags, being made of man-made polymer – polyethelene – are not degraded by microorganisms as, say, an apple core or paper will be, because said microorganisms don’t recognize polyethelene as food. But, while the bags don’t biodegrade, they do photodegrade, taking those estimated 500-1,000 years for the sun to break down polymers until they become brittle and crumble.

Now, because of an observation during a beekeeper’s cleaning of her hives, a new environmental hero has emerged. Literally. It’s the lowly, one-inch wax worm also known as the honey worm caterpillar that loves to make its home and hatch its eggs among the delicious goop of honeycombs.

As it happens, the beekeeper also happened to be a research scientist in Spain. Upon finding the worms within her hives’ honeycomb panels, she put them aside in a plastic bag while finishing her cleaning. When she went for the worms, they’d tunneled out of their plastic prison.

Subsequent research studies showed that it’s not just about eating the plastic; cocoons placed on the plastic also degrade it, leading to the conclusion that the worms have an enzyme that does the swift degrading.

One interesting connection is that the plastic shares a similarity to the chemical compounds of beeswax, of which wax worms are especially fond. The hope is that researchers can isolate and reproduce the enzyme on an industrial scale and ultimately make inroads into the persistent environmental problem of plastic bag waste.

Environmental pollution is way up there when it comes to complex problems. Which is why is would be immensely satisfying if the (relatively) simple answer to the use of 500 billion plastic bags per year is the taste proclivities of an unassuming one-inch caterpillar.

With acknowledgement to the Live Science website, if you’d like to see a video of the caterpillars degrading a plastic bag, you can click here: http://www.livescience.com/58812-watch-amazing-caterpillars-degrade-a-plastic-bag-video.html

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More than a year ago, I wrote: “To lay the foundation for a city whose future will be considerably more sustainable, green cannot be limited to luxury residential developments, nor Class A office buildings. The future must also embrace, encourage and fund sustainable initiatives in lower income areas of New York.”

I went on to say that The Bronx had shown considerable progress, buoyed by from both the public and private sectors.

Now, the city has announced two new programs in their “Solarize NYC” initiative focused on residents and businesses coming together to achieve community (lower) pricing from solar power companies. What is strategic about the program is that it addresses two of the city’s urban characteristics, one physical, one social. The first is the extreme density of our City’s buildings; and the second is that so many city residents are renters or otherwise do not have access to solar power.

What is brilliant about the “Solarize NYC” program is that you don’t need a roof to install solar – impossibly expensive for many buildings and out and out impossible for renters. The City estimates power cost reductions of 10-20%.

“By making solar more accessible and affordable, we are combating climate change and reducing the burden of air pollution,” the mayor said in statement.

The recently announced programs are in Harlem and Downtown Brooklyn and both, though similar, are also distinctly different in their goals that go beyond solarizing.

Brooklyn is, of course, becoming increasingly gentrified. But Downtown Brooklyn has long been the civic and commercial hub of the borough – courthouses, borough hall, federal buildings, colleges, the Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower, Metro Tech Center and certainly not the least of them, Barclays Center – as well as the third largest business district in the city.

This “Emerging 2030 District” solarizing program encompasses Community Board 2 which includes the Tech Triangle, DUMBO, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and parts of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Boerum Hill, Atlantic Yards and BAM. According to the 2030 District’s website, the area was selected because of “…its diversity, a characteristic which facilitates the modeling of sustainability and resilience planning for the entire city in this compact area.”

Harlem, on the other hand, is part of the WEACT (for Environmental Justice) program focused on “building healthy communities for people of color and low-income residents in Northern Manhattan. “ It will provide the opportunity to bring clean and sustainable solar energy and its reduced costs into the homes of low to moderate income families.

It’s energizing (pun intended) to watch the impressive steady progress of the City in making New York a leader in sustainability. The goal for solar is to increase use to one gigawatt by 2030.

If solarizing interests you as a NYC resident, worker, property or business owner, you can spearhead having your neighborhood (no matter how you define it) participate in the Solarize NYC program. You can find the application at solarizenyc.com.

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