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Queens College study shines light on Flushing’s solar power future

Civic leader John Choe (l.-r.) students Carina Nieves and Brandon Butt, instructor Tarry Hum, students David Nicholas and Lenny Zwibel, graduate student Sarah Salama and students William Leverett and Seth Pollack pose after the students completed their presentation. Photo by Joe Anuta
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Solar power has a future in Flushing, but there are several obstacles standing in the way, a study completed by a group of Queens College students showed last week.

Students who embarked on a semester-long study presented their findings Friday at the Flushing branch of the Queens Public Library.

The group of 11 found that if solar panes were placed on several apartment rooftops in the Mitchell Linden area, they could provide up to $408,984 in annual electricity savings, which could help ease energy needs in the greater Flushing area.

“This area is known for pollution, congestion and for using quite a bit of energy,” said Lenny Zwibel.

The panels on top of Mitchell Linden houses would pay for themselves in 5 1/2 years, according to the students, but also provide a lot more stability for some of the middle-class families who live in the buildings.

“Usually these families get hit hardest when we have increases in electricity costs,” said Carina Nieves.

The study broke down roof space in the neighborhood that might feasibly host solar panels. In addition to Mitchell Linden, the team identified all of the city-owned buildings that could serve as venues for panels as well.

In particular, city Department of Education property made up 68 percent of city-owned space throughout Community Board 7, which covers Flushing, Whitestone, College Point, Mitchell-Linden, Auburndale, Murray Hill and Broadway-Flushing.

But the class, called Solar Flushing, said many residents in the neighborhood do not consider solar energy a viable option.

“The people of Flushing currently do not see solar panels as a necessity,” said Brandon Butt. “We need to educate people that it is logical to make the switch to solar in the long run.”

Solar panels might not be the cheapest way to get power, the group conceded, but the panels can produce clean energy and eventually pay for themselves, although timeframes vary widely.

But even if someone wanted to install solar panels, the amount of red tape involved in the permitting process on the city level is a disincentive, the group said.

Reforms to the permit process, which student Seth Pollack called “onerous,” are needed so anyone wanting to build is not discouraged.

In addition, many residents or businesses who might be interested in solar energy are turned off by the uncertainty of federal subsidies, the team said.

Currently, the installation of solar panels can earn tax breaks from the White House, but there is no guarantee of how long those subsidies will last.

“Government support is essential,” said graduate student Sarah Salama.

On the city level, none of the agencies have taken an interest in solar energy, the group found, largely due to budget cuts.

Legislation is in the pipeline on the federal and state levels to give solar energy a boost, but the Solar Flushing class found that more can be done on a grassroots level to promote the technology.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Posted 7:20 pm, June 6, 2012
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