California, step aside: New York State's solar industry is on the rise

CSI program step-down incentive structure

There’s been a lot of excitement about the bright future of New York’s NY-Sun solar program after a bunch of major developments last week, including the governor’s exciting State of the State speech; an important petition that the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) filed with the state Public Service Commission; and, the release of the draft New York State Energy Plan. So I thought I’d do a follow on to my post last week, providing more detail on the history of the NY-Sun program, the process for the expansion of the program moving forward, what we expect to happen when, and, what solar supporters can do to cheer the program on.

As I described last year, NY-Sun is on the rise. With the momentum building from Governor Cuomo’s State of the State announcement last week, 2014 promises to be a banner year for solar in New York.  

In last year’s State of the State speech, Governor Cuomo announced his intent to expand the NY-Sun program over ten years, with a billion dollar investment. And in the year that followed, he took important steps toward realizing this commitment. Most recently, on January 6, just before the governor’s State of the State speech, NYSERDA filed a petition with the Public Service Commission seeking the green light to do just that: increase the NY-Sun budget to nearly $1 billion in support of the deployment of 3,000 megawatts of solar power by 2023. These dollar budgets and megawatt targets are essential to providing the certainty, longevity, and scale necessary to drive investment. But equally vital are the much-needed program design changes that NYSERDA has proposed. Today, the public comment period on NYSERDA’s plan to extend and expand the NY-Sun program will begin, and we hope that solar stakeholders and other members of the public will weigh in to support this huge advance for New York solar. Comments are due by March 3rd and can be emailed to the Public Service Commission at Specific details on how to comment are here. And you can keep track of comments submitted in the docket here. After the public-comment period closes, we hope and expect that the PSC will approve, with all due speed, this bold new step forward on New York solar.

For the energy wonks amongst you, here are a few more details on the NYSERDA petition. Modeled after California’s successful program called the California Solar Initiative, NYSERDA proposes to establish a “declining megawatt block” incentive structure in which incentive levels drop in a stairstep fashion, as more solar is installed. This approach provides the market certainty for developers to secure financing, solicit customers, and staff up with good, local clean energy jobs. At the same time, it drives the market competition to deliver solar at a lower and lower cost over time, ensuring New Yorkers maximize the amount of solar deployed per public dollar invested.


In this year’s State of the State report, the governor hailed the progress of the NY-Sun program and reaffirmed the state’s commitment to it, providing some important new details on where the program is going. The governor announced a great new school and community “solarizing” program called Community Solar NY, which will help New York’s 5,000 public schools finance and install solar power systems on their roofs, reducing energy costs and creating a healthier environment. Led by the New York Power Authority and NYSERDA, this initiative will also use solar schools as demonstration hubs to “solarize” entire neighborhoods, rallying the entire community around the benefits of solar. This new state initiative dovetails nicely with NRDC’s new Solar Schools initiative, which aims to share knowledge and expertise with schools around the country that want to move forward with solar. 

In addition to these NYSERDA programs, the Long Island Power Authority is on track to secure an additional 100 megawatts of larger solar projects through its complementary Feed-in Tariff program; this builds on the 50 megawatts it has already procured via a FIT structure, as well as its very successful residential solar incentive program. Coupled with funding from NYPA to drive down the “soft costs” of solar installations -- which were also highlighted in the State of the State report -- the full NY-Sun suite of initiatives are impressive in both scope and scale.   

In the coming months, NRDC will continue to work with our partners in environmental, business, labor and clean energy communities to engage in the Public Service Commission process to ensure the timely implementation of these critical program pieces to tie up the bow on NY-Sun, while also working closely with the governor’s team to roll out a strong solar school’s initiative. These important next steps will once again demonstrate Governor Cuomo’s track record of delivering on his commitments to make New York a leader in clean energy.     

We’ll also be working hard on a suite of other clean energy initiatives in New York, including securing an extension and expansion of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard program – which seeks to spur various forms of renewable energy in New York, including wind energy, the state’s energy efficiency programs, and, launching a smart offshore wind program for the state.  More on these important programs later!