Coop, Local companies work toward Electrifying to Fight Climate Crisis


By Hayley Gorenberg

After years on a dizzyingly politicized “solar coaster,” Brooklyn’s greening experts are seizing new financial incentives to electrify building systems—cutting pollution and helping address the climate crisis. 

The federal Inflation Reduction Act has layered fresh, new tax credits and rebates on existing financial programs, and local leaders—including some from the PSFC’s Energy Efficiency Committee—are digging in to help buildings move quickly from fossil fuels to energy-efficient technologies. Their expertise in solar power and advantageous financing promise a cleaner and healthier future, as well as financial rewards to NYC households.


“The Coop is incredibly energy-dense,” due to its banks of refrigerators and freezers jammed into a relatively small space, noted Energy Committee member Michael Brusic, who joined the Coop nine years ago and is a co-founder of Sunkeeper Solar, an engineering, procurement, and construction firm focused on solar and battery energy storage throughout New York City. In addition to the sheer energy consumption used to keep items cold, shoppers constantly open and close the appliances and the building’s front doors—all of which boosts energy demand.

One of the Coop’s many fridges, which use a lot of electricity.

Could some of that power come from solar energy? After assessing the Coop’s partially shaded, relatively small usable roof area, Brusic said the Energy Committee has decided to pursue connections to local distributed community solar projects that would allow the Coop to buy local clean energy at less than Con Edison rates. 

In the meantime, the Coop purchases carbon credits “to help offset the carbon emitted due to the fossil fuel it consumes—But that comes at a premium,” Brusic said. He noted that the credits may tap into wind or hydroelectric power generation several states away, “whereas community solar comes at a discount,” drawing power from relatively nearby sources. 

At the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard, Alan Burchell heads Urbanstrong, one of a range of local firms connected to the NYC Accelerator (, a city office that “provides resources, training, and one-on-one expert guidance to help building owners and industry professionals improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions from buildings in NYC.” The NYC Accelerator welcomes contact from people in residential and commercial buildings; building owners, property managers, and developers; community-based organizations and advocacy groups; and industry professionals.

Urbanstrong, which Burchell said connects frequently to the Accelerator, offers expertise in finance, engineering, design, and construction, and advertises that it “has installed hundreds of thousands of square feet of green building projects…on buildings including iconic landmarks, schools, offices, restaurants, condos, and brownstones.”

Solar panels on a roof in Brooklyn.

“I’ve been on the front line pitching various cooperative and condominium boards about green roofs, rooftop farms, and solar since 2014,” Burchell said. He added that he used to focus more on ecology, the reduction of sewer overflows and street-level flooding, awareness of microplastics contaminating water. But, he said, he “realized eyes glazed over”—not due to lack of interest, but because his audiences were already aware of environmental concerns.

New Yorkers’ understandable concern for their wallets, a range of both new and long-standing financial incentive “carrots,” and the “stick” of escalating penalties for buildings that fail to address their carbon footprint, further shifted Burchell from his environmental pitch, to one that emphasizes how clean energy options improve a building’s finances. He now focuses on financial return, “dollars and cents,” and said that from a sheerly financial point of view, green energy measures “have now turned so ultra-lucrative that the environmental benefits almost don’t even matter.”

A Coop environmental consultant says green energy measures “have now turned so ultra-lucrative that the environmental benefits almost don’t even matter.”

Funding opportunities and financing for rooftop systems and other environmentally sound retrofits are now available in fairly small amounts, as opposed to the more formidable multi-million-dollar packages, Burchell said. Furthermore, many people involved with clean energy industries are pressing urgently for provisions to further depoliticize funding streams and to help build long-term certainty—to “make the solar coaster a little less bumpy.” 

Burchell promotes full and up-to-date assessments so buildings and residents don’t “leave a  lot of money on the table.” Some newer programs let buildings and even individual unit owners subscribe to buy their electricity from local solar producers at rates generally 10% less than Con Edison charges, he said, functioning “as a CSA—but for local solar.” There are rooftop solar programs that yield a net financial gain each year, Burchell said—and even financial arrangements that require no up-front spending.


Brusic added that the federal Inflation Reduction Act’s “adders” for projects serving low- and middle-income folks can nudge 30-percent incentives to 40 or even 50 percent. The payoff for these projects financially (in addition to their importance in fighting climate change) means that in Brusic’s estimation, there are big opportunities for workforce development. “We can’t always hire people as fast as we want to,” he said. “I think everyone is pretty busy!” 

While no one says the Inflation Reduction Act is perfect, its energy and financial solutions are a huge step forward for the nation, Brusic said. He also characterized the U.S. as “always a little behind”—until now.

The parent of a two-year-old, Brusic said complaints against local laws that impose penalties for neglecting to address a building’s carbon footprint brought to mind “analogies that are toddler-based,” over being made to eat one’s broccoli. “I don’t believe 100% of these buildings claiming they have exhausted all the financial options.” 

Hayley Gorenberg has worked in environmental justice and trained this spring with the Climate Reality Project.