More than four years ago, Superstorm Sandy knocked many businesses up and down the peninsula out of commission. Many that were beloved staples in the community closed for months or simply never opened again. Those that did reopen struggled with enormous debt after re-building, and over time ultimately folded under financial hardship.
However, if you are a Sandy-affected Rockaway-based small business, there is an opportunity for you to keep your doors open, save energy costs and improve the environment — all without any cost to you.
Through the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYEDC) RISE initiative, Rockaway aficionados Walter Meyer and Jennifer Bolstad, principals of Local Office Landscape and Urban Design (LOLA), an urban neighborhood landscape design firm, and local resident, David Gibbs, a solar energy engineer, scored an estimated $3M grant to help Rockaway’s businesses survive the impacts of extreme weather through the use of resilient and renewable energy and heat production.
RISE is a Superstorm Sandy business recovery and resiliency program that helps NYC small businesses mitigate the impacts of climate change through the use of innovative technologies.
“Through this grant, we will be able to install a broad envelope of hybrid on-and off-grid solar electric generators, wind micro-turbines, solar thermal systems, geothermal power, tankless hot water heaters, and mobile phone boosters for 30 businesses in the Rockaways. So far, we have identified 20 businesses that fit the federal criteria for the funding. But we want more businesses to apply, so we can make sure that we have an even spread of businesses from the east to west ends of the peninsula to benefit from this amazing opportunity,” Meyer said.
“We’re especially focused on Far Rockaway, especially because of the double vulnerability of being environmentally and economically exposed. On the east end many businesses don’t have the financial capacity to buy solar panels or install geothermal systems. We have a lot of locations in the middle of the peninsula and also want to pick up a few more in Belle Harbor and Breezy Point.
For example, we identified a local laundromat, in which we are going to use geothermal energy for heating and cooling, using the sun and wind to produce energy. In the summer, there is a lot of sun, as opposed to the winter, when there is not much sun, but a lot of wind. So it balances out,” Meyer said.
According to Meyer, solar power played a crucial role in the recovery of the Rockaway peninsula during Hurricane Sandy. In the aftermath of Sandy, Meyer, Bolstad and Gibbs’ team under their nonprofit, Power Rockaways Resilience (PRR) quickly deployed solar and other renewable off-grid technologies to help restore power. “We basically asked favors of all the companies we worked with in our firm to ship us, at cost or below wholesale prices, the equipment needed to get energy for Rockaway locals. Within days after Sandy, we delivered hand-built, shopping-cart sized solar generators to the hardest hit blocks of the Rockaways. Folks were able to charge their phones and let their families know that they survived the storm. We provided lights for places, security and communications.” Meyer said.
The team’s efforts soon shifted up to large-scale solar generators, providing enough power to keep relief centers up and running. In April 2013, The White House recognized PRR with a “Champions of Change” award for helping to rebuild a more resilient Rockaway Beach with Hurricane Sandy.
According to Meyer, grant winners are folks like his team: non-profits and businesses that are doing work in Zone 1 or other vulnerable areas of NYC. “Not everyone is focusing on Rockaway. We saw this grant as an opportunity to re-direct some of those resources to the peninsula, as opposed to Brooklyn or Manhattan. This is a personal project for us because we are helping the Rockaway community become more resilient,” Meyer said.
Gibbs said that what differentiated their team’s mission from the other 200 worldwide applicants, was that they weren't trying to market a specific technology. One of their goal was to involve all members of the community in learning and building green energy solutions. “A major component of the project was to offer locals vocational training in solar installation. Folks will have opportunities to learn and work side-by-side with us as we do the installations. We wanted this to also be an opportunity to give green jobs training,” Gibbs said.
The federal compliance criteria for businesses applying for this grant are:
They must be a community-critical Sandy-affected business, which includes doctors’ offices, nursery schools, food and beverage proprietors, gas stations, auto repair, etc. Nonprofit businesses such as churches or community organizations are not applicable. The business must be an LLC or some form of corporation. Meyer explained, “Of course, we want to help nonprofits, but because this is federal money, they want to see the impact of the resiliency project on the local for-profit business community.”
In addition, typically the businesses must own the property they operate on, or alternatively the property’s owner will be owner of the system installed. Thus the contract is with the owner, so if it is a business that is leasing from the owner, the system goes to the owner of the space, not the business leasing the space.
According to Meyer, this grant solves a local problem and a global problem. “The local problem of uninterruptible power is a critical component of living in a vulnerable place like Rockaway, and the only form of uninterruptible power is renewable batteries with solar,” Meyer said. “The cost looks a lot more upfront, but much cheaper in the long-run. Globally the problem is getting us off carbon-based and fossil fuels, and natural gas.”