By George Harvey
Joanne Coons, who has contributed in a number of ways to Green Energy Times, sent us an email updating the several community solar projects in her area of New York. She said Kevin Bailey from High Peaks is building the Hope Solar Farm and mentioned projects from Solstice. One solar farm of special interest is the Helderberg Solar Farm, which was built by Monolith Solar, an installer based in Rensselaer, New York.
Monolith Solar has promoted community solar in the New York capital region’s Solarize program. And now, those efforts have paid off. The Helderberg Solar Farm will be the first community solar project in the Capital Region to go on line.
The Helderberg Farm is a 200-kilowatt system, with power supplied by 600 solar panels. It was built in Johnsonville, New York, and its power is being sold through National Grid, the local utility. The power is being credited to the electricity accounts of the 26 residential off-takers, who include both home owners and renters.
The members are all people who wanted to have solar power, but were unable to provide adequate places to site solar systems of their own. In some cases, this was because of a poorly oriented property, in others it was because of shade from trees or nearby buildings. Some members did not have their own property at all, but were renters rather than owners. Off-site community solar systems are open to just about anyone with an account with the utility and lives near enough to the solar farm, a distance that could be quite a few miles.
The way a community solar farm works is that the electric utility customers who buy the solar power do not use the electricity directly. Instead, it is sold to their local utility, and their bills are credited based on how much power their shares in the community system produce.
Lindsey McEntire, the Business Development Manager of Monolith Solar is also one of the members of the Helderberg Farm. She said, “The installation and activation of this community solar farm is going to change the way power is distributed in New York. Now, instead of having panels located directly on your roof, you can instead buy into a Community Solar Farm and generate your power remotely.”
McEntire was particularly pleased with the fact that customers, such as herself, could have solar power even though they do not have good sites of their own. “Everyone with an interest in solar can now participate. It’s truly incredible. I myself have bought into the Community Farm, I live within a historic district in downtown Troy, and could otherwise never go green due to lack of space and building restrictions. I am thrilled that my brownstone is now being powered by the sun, 15 miles away!”
Troy Resident Kerry Fagan also addressed the importance of being able to use a remote site, saying, “Our roof is not suited for solar panels, [having] too many trees and not enough light. I have always wanted to go green, and the solar farm gives us access to renewable energy without any hassle – we love it.”
One of the biggest challenges Monolith Solar had in organizing the system was to find an appropriate place to site it. Originally, the company planned to build a two-megawatt array, but locating a large enough piece of land that was close enough to appropriately-sized power lines proved not to be easy. A solution to this is to put up a set of much smaller systems, distributed through the countryside. Getting the individual permits for a number of smaller systems is easier than getting a single permit for a large one. Environmental and visual impacts are more easily managed, and interconnections with utilities do not place the same burdens on transmission infrastructure.