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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Impressive Solar Progress in New York State

The 6.1-MW array in Bethel, New York. (Courtesy photo)

George Harvey

One thing about some renewable energy technologies is how astonishingly quickly they can be developed. It is common for a developer to announce the start of a major development that is to be finished in six months, and follow that less than six months later with an announcement that the development was finished ahead of schedule and on budget. And such seems to be the case for entire solar programs that have been underway in New York State.

This year, NYSERDA (the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) launched its fifth annual solicitation for renewable energy projects, the State’s largest land-based procurement to date. In April, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that over twenty large infrastructure projects were to be under construction in his state this year. This was expected to produce $1.5 billion in investment and 2,000 jobs, pushing New York State toward its goal of getting 70% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

The announcement was made at the largest community solar project in the Mid-Hudson region, near the town of Bethel. The project has a capacity of 6.1 megawatts, enough to cover the annual needs of about 1,000 households. It was developed by Delaware River Solar and is owned by Generate Capital.

That was three months ago, and it was a forward-looking announcement. Now, Gov. Cuomo has another announcement looking back at the accomplishments of the last ten years, especially the NY-Sun program. They are not just impressive – they are rather amazing. When the two are viewed together, the whole produces a heartening view of how renewables are developing. And this is particularly true, considering that we are still in the process of recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Solar energy is a key component in New York’s transition to a clean energy economy as we work to reduce harmful emissions across the board and address the dual challenges of fighting climate change and rebuilding stronger post-pandemic,” Governor Cuomo said. “The success of NY-Sun demonstrates we are on track to meeting our nation-leading energy goals while stimulating green job growth and economic recovery in communities across the state as part of our comprehensive plan to reimagine New York following the pandemic.”

Since 2011, the capacity of New York State’s solar photovoltaic infrastructure has been brought up to three gigawatts (GW). That is a growth of 2,100% over the span of the ten years. At the same time, the cost of solar systems has dropped by 69%, largely because of the increased efficiency that goes along with developing new technology as it is put into use (largely a result of doing the installations). The work created 12,000 jobs in the state.

According to the governor’s announcement, the total of what has been done since 2011 and what is now under development will take the state 95% of the way to its goal of six GW by 2025, which was mandated when the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act became law, in 2019.

New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul was quoted in the new announcement saying, “By reaching the historic milestone of three gigawatts of solar installed in New York, we can now power more than a half million homes with clean energy, while also creating good jobs and attracting further investment in our State’s green energy economy.”

The announcement especially pointed out community solar projects. The state is leading the nation in community solar installations. In 2020, the state had its most productive year ever for community solar installations, with 549 megawatts of capacity installed. The majority of these were supported by NY-Sun incentives.

Today, because of the NY-Sun initiative, the state of New York has solar installations on the roof or ground-mounted on the property of 145,000 homes, and they can be found in every one of the state’s counties. The incentives provided by the initiative came to $1 billion, and they produced $5.3 billion in private investment. Altogether, the progress New York has made covers the electricity needs for 522,000 homes.

Clearly, the state of New York is making remarkable progress on its goals for renewable energy. It is reducing carbon emissions, reducing pollution (and thereby reducing medical costs), and reducing the costs of electricity.

In this age, when many people worry about the state of the American democracy, we could add one more thing worth note: There is not much in this world that supports democracy more than solar power at home.

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