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Community Solar is Now Accessible to Millions of New Yorkers

By Wyldon King Fishman

If you live or work in New York, a shady location can mean summertime temperatures are a little cooler around your home or business. Shade is a wonderful thing, even if it’s only an awning. But as you know, you can’t use solar modules without sun. Even a little shade may make rebates unattainable, but there still may be a way to get what you want. Welcome to community solar!

Low-income renters, occupants of multifamily buildings, people without good solar sites, schools, municipal governments, and commercial customers can now band together and finance a solar system nearby in a field or on a big, sunny warehouse rooftop. How? First, find ten or more ratepayers and a leader to supervise the project, who all are located fairly close together. Everyone shares a piece of the system pie. Every month, the members’ utility bills reflect the net- metering credit of their own portions of the system.

Not keen to handle the job? Contact solar installation consultants and contractors. Listening to the professionals will help your group understand the financing, locations, and utility hook-ups for access to transmission lines. They’ll educate you and then may come out and bid on your project. You’ll have decisions to make about land acquisition, site surveys, engineering studies and fees to pay for permits.

Local solar, wind and some other renewable energy projects qualify. It is worth doing a little research to see if a particular available resource could be developed under the program.

Details

The first phase begins October 19, 2015. It is limited to benefitting low-income customers with high demand for power that’s not easily met by the current utility grid. It supports economically distressed communities by ensuring at least 20% of the participants are low- and moderate-income customers.

The second phase starts on May 1, 2016. All can participate in all utility territories.

Background

Colorado was the first state to allow what were then called solar gardens. They were limited by caps, which were filled to capacity almost overnight. The utilities complained about transmission line usage, but over time some began so see the advantage of Solar Gardens where the electric load was very high and the service was not dependable.

The New York Solar Energy Society got a call from the staff in the Budget and Taxation Department asking why community solar gardens weren’t being developed in New York. Our response was that it had a lot to do with large properties getting service from different utilities. A barn on the other side of the road often got electricity from one utility while the house was supplied by another. A camp might have a sunny field suitable for a solar garden next to a pole, but the utility that owned the pole didn’t service the main kitchen. Different utilities didn’t have to cooperate, share transmission lines and take care of the extra billing. Soon we shall see if progress has been made. The details have not been finalized, but the utilities have been lobbying to keep community solar from crossing utility territories.

In six years of working with the energy committees of the legislature we never got the bill we needed. Over the past year, however, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been pushing through the Shared Renewable Initiative or Community Net Metering as part of his Reforming the Energy Vision Initiative. This is a surprise win-win for all New Yorkers seeking clean, affordable energy.

Local energy production can withstand storms better with shorter transmission lines. Also, long distance transmission lines lose 8% to 18% of the electricity generated at the power plant, but with local power generation much better efficiency can be achieved. Now we can eliminate the cost of extraction and transportation of fuel and maintaining expensive transmission lines and benefit from lower costs and healthful clean air and water.

Equal access to renewable energy has come to New York. The state’s Public Service Commission voted and has issued a final order telling the utilities the time has come to allow any group to buy a solar-energy-generation system, hook it up to the grid and credit the members of the group every month. The future is bright for locals to design and implement a grid for your community.

Along with the Community Solar news we received the announcement of more than eighty “microgrid” research-grants winners. A community solar farm can be joined by wind and combined with battery backup for uninterruptable power supply.

Stay tuned. In the meantime prepare to find a group interested in free fuel from the sun and wind powering your community.

For more information, please visit www.ny-sun.ny.gov/community-solar.

Wyldon King Fishman hails from The Bronx where she founded the NY Solar Energy Society (www.nyses.org) to help educate children and families about renewable energy and energy conservation. She recently weatherized her old house and can’t believe the difference.

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