Staten Island woman lowered energy bills after installing solar panels. She shares her journey.
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Staten Island woman lowered energy bills after installing solar panels. She shares her journey.

May 28, 2023

Flore Batiste, a single mother of three and a domestic violence victims' advocate. (Staten Island Advance/Joseph Ostapiuk)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Last winter, Flore Baptiste recalled paying more than $300 for her electricity bill in her Arden Heights home, the first she ever owned. Her bill was typically around $125 a month, but the up-and-down see-saw of utility prices was leaving her concerned.

A single mother of three, she said she wanted to learn more about the city's push for solar energy — an alternative source of power that is becoming cheaper to install for homeowners. She started at a resource fair at Staten Island Borough Hall.

Baptiste, the Staten Island community coordinator for the Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, said she wanted to learn more about the available services. She soon became among the first clients of a new city initiative centered on helping residents to install energy-efficient upgrades.

Months later, and with her solar panels installed, she has recently been paying around $20 monthly for her electricity, according to records observed by the Advance/, leading to an expected thousands of dollars in savings annually.

"I would love to see this expanding so more people can benefit from it because people are living paycheck to paycheck," said Baptiste, who was born in Haiti and has been living in New York City for nearly two decades. "That money can definitely be put somewhere else."

Solar panels are shown on a home on Staten Island in this file photo. (Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hammel)Staff-Shot


An advocate for domestic violence survivors, Baptiste knows navigating even the best-intentioned city programs can sometimes be intimidating. She said where she began her solar panel journey eased that process: ElectrifyNYC.

The free program, run by the Mayor's Office of Climate and Environmental Justice and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, is aimed at supporting homeowners in the stages leading to solar panel installation. Anyone on Staten Island and in Queens is eligible for the initiative but it prioritizes those at greatest need.

It starts with an intake process that matches homeowners of one-to-four family homes with eligible programs before paperwork is completed. From there, qualified contractors are paired with homeowners to complete the work.

In Baptiste's case, her home needed some alterations before panels could be installed. Her roof required greater structural integrity and insulation needed to be put in the walls to increase efficiency. She received money directly from Weatherization and NY-Sun — two incentive programs supporting the transition to solar energy in NYC — to help mitigate the cost of initial installation, officials said.

Because of her income, she received a deferred loan that would be forgiven if she stayed in her home for a decade; however, interested homeowners can discuss their specific financial profile to see if they’re eligible for no up-front costs.

Facilitated by ElectrifyNYC, considered a leader in forward-thinking climate change ideas, Baptiste said it took about 15 months for her to go from her first day in the program to final installation, which only took a couple days to complete.

"It was very cost effective," she said.


The mission of the city effort aligns with local and state goals to electrify buildings, improve efficiency and mitigate the greatest contributor of greenhouse gases in New York City: Buildings. The city has set ambitious goals to install solar energy, electric building infrastructure, green roofs or other renewable energy on all city-owned property by 2035.

And, the city is looking to advocate to the state to continue and expand its solar tax abatement program for NYC residents, which is set to expire at the end of 2023.

New York State goals are also working toward a place where no one pays more than 6% of pre-tax income on energy costs, reducing the burden of energy costs on low-income New Yorkers who disproportionately suffer economic and health consequences due to high costs.

Baptiste was featured in the mayor's new sustainability plan, PlaNYC, highlighting her reduction from spending 12% of her income on energy to its current state in the low-single digits.

Part of the ElectrifyNYC initiative is centered on feedback following initial installation. At that final step, the city will reach out to assisted homeowners to learn more about the process, including any issues that were encountered. If homeowners do need assistance, officials said, the program connects them with resources like the Legal Aid Society.

So far, four homeowners in its target area have completed installations through ElectrifyNYC, and 21 homeowners are in the process of seeking proposals. The program also works to train nonprofits to learn how to assess homes for solar, giving homeowners a better opportunity to get an unbiased opinion on how much solar their home can handle.

Solar panels have increased in frequency in New York in recent years, and while initial installation can cost upward of $15,000, an analysis by Forbes found it takes just over seven years to "break even" on the investment in the state, with annual savings topping $1,500.

Said a spokesperson for the Mayor's Office of Climate and Environmental Justice (MOCEJ):

"ElectrifyNYC is MOCEJ's first energy efficiency and electrification program targeting 1-4-family homes, and will help MOCEJ understand how to engage with individual homeowners and landlords in this market, help meet the city's ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and inform the way we scale outreach and retrofits."

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