Solar Energy Projects Bloom Across NY

May 19, 2014

Since Governor Andrew Cuomo launched the NY-Sun initiative in 2012, his office says approximately 300 megawatts of photovoltaic generation capacity has been installed or is under development — more than what was installed in New York in the previous decade. Interest in solar projects has yet to peak...

Last week, the state announced that solar energy installers working with nonresidential clients will be allocated $60 million in the program's third round of funding.

Credit WAMC Composite Photo by Dave Lucas

A combination of state and federal incentives, along with dropping solar panel prices and the high cost of conventional energy in New York, have persuaded more businesses and residents to take a serious look at sun power.

Retired Colonel Thom Besch has opened "Veteran Solar Systems, Inc." and hopes to grow the business via the new McNulty Center at the Watervliet Arsenal. Besch believes solar will eventually trump energy generated by hydro, natural gas or nuclear power plants.  "New York's going to have increasing reliance on locally produced or distributed energy, such as solar, and it will not only make a more robust energy infrastructure, it will save homeowners and company owners money."

Communities are looking at solar too:  Jefferson Town Board members recently approved a motion to join in an energy audit with an Albany firm working with other municipalities in tandem with Schoharie County officials to develop solar projects for increased energy efficiency in the county.

PosiGen Solar Solutions held a grand opening in Albany Saturday, heralding the establishment of its first store in the state. Tom Neyhart is the company CEO.  "We're a little bit different than most solar companies because we don't just do solar. We put solar up on the roof but then we also go into every customer's home and we do energy efficiency, which reduces power consumption. So basically, we make power, we save power and we're able to increase our savings to our customers over standard solar by 40 to 65 per cent."

What about homeowners who can't afford solar or renters who have no say in how their electricity is delivered? Will their bills be impacted as others go off the grid? Neyhart says it depends.  "In a lot of areas the transmission wires are owned by a different company than is producing the power. New York is a deregulated state. You can buy power from any of the independent power producers, and you're gonna pay a fee for their power. Whether that's 12 cents or 16 cents or whatever it is per killowatt hour, that's not going to change based on how many people have solar. What could change is the amount that you pay for the transmission  lines. If solar, let's say, 30 per cent of the population had solar, then there would be a higher cost to maintain the grid for people that didn't"

Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian says the utility has seen quite a bit of growth in the use of solar throughout its service area. That has resulted in some utility customers banking credits or selling back electricity in what is known as ‘net metering.’  "Presently more than 2,000 systems have either been installed or are pending, and we're seeing that growth increase each year. Under the current net metering programs that are offered to utilities through New York State that is encouraging much of this growth, there is another side of that story, however, because net metering does cost our other customers in terms of impacts on their utility bills. So I know that New York State is looking at the net metering program in such a way that it helps balance the cost of maintaining the grid so that everyone contributes their portion to ensuring that the cost to maintain the local distribution system is shared by everyone."

The combined impact of more customers adding solar while others gravitate toward electric cars, which would require home charging, could possibly cancel each other out. Will individual customers get a fair shake?   "New York State is looking at ways in which utilities might be designing rates or re-looking at the current rate structure to ensure that there is parity."

Maserjian adds utilities are looking at programs designed to address electricity's changing future.   Green energy advocates are pleased: official figures show that under current use of solar, nearly 145,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be avoided annually. That's like taking 29,000 cars off the roads.