Community Solar Comes to New York

Call it one small shovelful of dirt for New York’s Capital District, one giant leap for solar power in New York State and nationwide.

This week, project developers and state energy officials broke ground on the Empire State’s first shared solar project, an offsite solar array that will allow tenants, businesses, and others who don’t have good roof access to get all the benefits of solar without putting panels on their own roofs. The policies that have enabled this first project, and the many more shared renewables projects now in the pipeline across New York State, were created last summer by the New York State Public Service Commission as part of Governor Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative, which aims to bring 3 gigawatts of solar power online by 2023. (That’s enough to power 400,000 homes.) They’ll play a crucial part in New York’s plan to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and in the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision effort to make New York’s electric system cleaner, more resilient, and more affordable for all New Yorkers.

Programs that promote clean energy in New York are helping state residents and businesses save money on energy, for sure. And not only that: They’re enabling all of us to breathe cleaner air. They’re limiting carbon pollution; they’re creating good local jobs; and, they’re helping make New York’s electric grid more resilient in the face of the increasingly extreme weather that results from climate change. No wonder more and more advocates across the country are pushing states to design and implement policies that allow for shared solar and other shared renewables. (To date, there are just 106 megawatts of the stuff installed nationwide, but the market is poised to boom.)

The 582-kilowatt solar array that began construction on Wednesday, in Halfmoon, north of Troy, works like many other shared projects in the 14 states and the 24 additional utility districts where they are allowed. More than 100 residents and businesses in the Capital Region can buy into the array. Then, like owners of onsite arrays, they’ll get credit on their electric bills for the electricity their panels produce, offering them a considerable savings. (The calculator connected with the Halfmoon project estimates that a local resident who buys enough panels to cover her/his entire electric bill can save more than $31,000 over the next 20 years of the project.) There’s more: The Clean Energy Collective, which administers the project, is donating panels with a total of 10 kilowatts of generating capacity to five low-income families in the Capital Region so that they can enjoy the cost savings and other benefits that come with clean energy.

And the Halfmoon participants aren’t the only ones who win. Because projects like these can be sited to generate power where the grid needs it most, all of us do.

Only about half of the country’s residents and businesses can host solar on their own roofs. So it’s no wonder that, thanks to new policies that promote shared renewables  and thanks to pent-up demand for clean energy, around the country, shared solar is poised to skyrocket. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that by 2020, the US can install between 5.5 and 11 gigawatts of shared solar, enough to power between 900,000 and 1.8 million homes.

Wednesday’s first steps onto the business end of a shovel portend great things for the many New Yorkers who want solar power but can’t host it on our homes or businesses. With shared solar now underway, New York takes a giant leap forward into the clean energy future Americans overwhelmingly desire.

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