Friday, June 21, 2013

Nonprofits can earn income by promoting solar power - here's how

June 21 is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

Nonprofits can earn income while making their community greener and more resilient - by promoting solar power

Solar energy capacity in NYC is rising sharply, and city officials are working to make it quicker and easier to install solar systems. Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems convert sunlight into electricity, and solar thermal systems use the sun to heat water. By reducing the amount of coal, heating oil and Solar energy capacity in NYC is rising sharply and city officials are working to make it quicker and easier to install solar systems. natural gas we use for those purposes, solar systems can save a lot of money, while reducing the carbon emissions that add to climate change. Also, as decentralized, distributed energy sources, solar systems are resilient – they can provide power even when regional energy grids are disrupted. Community based organizations (CBOs) can speed up this process, and earn some income at the same time. Here’s how.

Solar power is a great deal for building owners. Government incentives and tax breaks for solar energy are better than ever: they will cover about 70 - 90% of the typical system installation cost! Owners can customize the financing structure for their needs and preferences – for example, systems can be cash flow positive from day one. The cost of solar panels has recently been reduced, making this an even more attractive deal. But many building owners don’t know about solar, or who they can trust to install systems and help them apply for financing.

What block associations, business groups and religious congregations have in common are their established reputations and networks of contacts. Their leaders can pick up the phone and get through to local building owners and managers. That wouldn’t be easy for service providers without neighborhood connections.

So, common sense would predict that community based nonprofits can effectively promote sustainability initiatives. We proved this in Long Island City. LIC Partnership called western Queens business owners to promote Con Edison’s Green Team energy efficiency surveys and equipment upgrades. This retrofit program is a great deal for businesses but it's still a tough sell. The businesses we referred to the program participated at much higher rates than those contacted only by program contractors. Other nonprofits could do the same, but as a practical matter, they will do it only if there is financial incentive to make the extra effort.

With solar energy, there’s a way to link installers, CBOs and building owners so that everyone benefits, and the connecting power of CBOs can be activated. The potential benefit to installers from introductions to potential clients justifies offering nonprofits a referral fee of several percent of the cost of any completed projects that result from their efforts. That gives nonprofits the incentive to make those connections. After signing referral agreements with several of NYC’s top solar installers, LIC Partnership contacted western Queens building owners. Two of LICP’s referrals purchased systems, leading to lower energy costs for them – and fees for the organization.

Is your group ready to lower the energy bills of your constituents, make your neighborhood greener and more resilient – and earn some income? We’ll help you apply this approach in your own neighborhood. Visit our website for a sample referral agreement, marketing materials, and project guidelines, free of charge. Or contact us to arrange a presentation to your group.  Everyone can win from increasing NYC’s solar capacity. Get started today!

Dan Miner
Beyond Oil NYC

*Dan has served as SVP of LIC Partnership for many years, while carrying out many volunteer environmental projects. He is moving to the position of District Manager at Manhattan’s Community Board 6. Contact him at