Should government be involved in commercial projects or should the private sector do all the heavy lifting itself? Maybe the answer is that public/private partnerships are society’s best way forward. Private entities get to make a profit while government makes sure the needs of the community are met. Rooftop solar is great for those who have roofs that face the right way, are pitched at the proper angle, and aren’t shaded by trees or nearby buildings. But what of those who don’t have roofs that are suitable for solar power systems? For them, community solar may be the answer.
Community solar allows people who can’t have a rooftop solar system to participate in the clean energy revolution. Instead of having panels on the roof of a home, they own solar panels in a remote location. It’s like having rooftop solar except the wires connecting the system to your home are longer. A lot longer, actually.
All anyone needs to do is sign up to purchase (or lease) a certain number of solar panels in the project. There are no loans applications to fill out, no permitting process to go through, no installers tromping through your yard and climbing around on your roof. There’s no warranty or maintenance issues and, in most cases, you can move and take your clean renewable energy with you. The icing on the cake is that a portion of the electricity generated by those solar panels goes to reduce your monthly utility bill.
The state of New York has a clean energy goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030, supported in part by its NY-Sun Initiative, which has a budget of $1 billion and has boosted New York’s inventory of installed solar by a factor of 10 since 2011. A statement on its website says, “Everyone can get solar electric in New York State if we work together. Renters, homeowners, low-income residents, schools, and businesses can join together to set up shared solar electric systems. These shared resources result in expanded access to renewable energy and healthier, stronger communities for all. It is also referred to as community distributed generation (or community DG).”
New York has just announced its largest community solar project is now on line. The 2.7 megawatt facility in Sullivan County, west of New York City, has 9,800 solar panels and is owned by Delaware River Solar, which benefited from $1.3 million in funding from the sate of New York. “An investment in renewable energy is an investment in the future and sustainability of New York’s environment and the overall health of this state,” says New York governor Andrew Cuomo in a press release. “This Sullivan County project will deliver energy savings to residents throughout the Mid-Hudson Valley region while supporting the establishment of a cleaner, greener New York for all.”
Remember that part about public/private partnerships? To date, the investments made by the state of New York have leverage almost $3 billion in private investment, money that has gone into the local economy to create employment opportunities for New York residents. It has also helped reduce the state’s carbon footprint. The Sullivan County community solar installation is expected to keep 1,670 metric tons a year of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. How do you put a price on letting people live longer, healthier lives?
“It is important that we continue to seek ways to produce energy from as many sources as possible,” notes state senator Joseph Griffo, who is chairman of the Energy & Telecommunications Committee. “I am hopeful that this solar array will help us to increase our renewable energy generation while also providing consumers and businesses who choose to take part with a reduction to their energy costs.”
Community solar has many attributes, not the least of which is that the installation costs per panel are significantly less than they are for rooftop solar systems. They are a great way to encourage people to get involved with renewable energy while keeping installed costs per kilowatt-hour low. They also help blunt entrenched hostility toward rooftop solar by many in the utility industry who complain they can create solar power plants for far less money than private individuals can. Community solar can help bridge that divide.