New York has one of the most active community solar markets in the country. Curious about what’s driving community solar’s growth in the Empire State? Or are you wondering about community solar in general? Below we provide an overview of community solar and the incentives available in New York. Then, we’ll give you some tips on how to find a project that’s right for you.
What is community solar, and how does it work?
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), about half of the country can’t install rooftop solar panels. If you’re one of those people, community solar offers an alternative option – access to clean energy without having to pay a premium and without needing to put panels on your roof.
Rather than the large-scale solar projects that are built to support a utility, community solar projects allow the surrounding community to directly purchase a share or subscribe to a portion of the electricity produced from the solar panels in an installation. Most projects have a restricted list of eligible zip codes to make sure the electricity produced stays local.
For the model to make financial sense to potential customers, a state needs to have enacted some sort virtual net metering legislation. Virtual net metering (VNM) is a variant on traditional net metering, which allows you to receive credits on your electric bill for excess energy produced by your grid-connected solar panels.
With virtual net metering, you can receive those credits even if the project is off site. Sixteen states across the country, including New York, have incentivized community solar through some sort of virtual net metering legislation.
Community solar program structures
Some community solar programs will offer you the ability to buy a panel or panels, while others will allow you to subscribe to a portion of the electricity that a project produces.
In the purchase model, a customer decides how many panels they would like to own. The customer pays upfront and receives credits on their electricity bill for the amount of electricity their panels are producing. Eventually, the savings they’ll receive from those credits can add up to more than their initial payment – allowing for a return on the investment.
In the subscription model, the project developers allow a customer to subscribe to a certain amount of the electricity that is sourced from the community solar project. The rate that customers pay for the subscription will be at a set reduction when compared to their electric utility’s rate. For example, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration the average rate of electricity in New York in January 2018 was 17.74 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). If the subscription offers a 10 percent discount, the customer would pay 15.96 cents/kWh for the electricity coming from their panels, allowing them to save money and support clean, local energy.
The subscription model also typically allows for more flexibility than the purchase model. If a subscriber decides to move, their spot will be opened up to the next aspiring participant in line. If they own their panels, however, they need to sell them to a new participant.
Community solar projects in New York
New York has one of the most active community solar markets in the country. Their market is boosted by Governor Cuomo’s $1 billion initiative to advance the acceleration of solar in the state, called the NY-Sun Initiative.
In February 2018, Governor Cuomo announced the completion of New York’s largest project to date. The project is owned by Delaware River Solar, received $1.3 million of state investment, and includes almost 10,000 panels.
There are plenty of additional community solar projects on the way. The State of New York has 728 megawatts of community solar projects in the pipeline. According to their estimates, if all anticipated projects are built, the state will produce enough clean power to provide electricity to approximately 120,000 homes.
New York also recently decided to increase the maximum size of community solar projects from 2 megawatts (MW) to 5 MW. On average, that change will increase the total potential subscribers per project from approximately 260 households to around 660 households.
A community solar how-to guide for New York residents
If you’re interested in finding community solar projects near you, use EnergySage’s Community Solar Marketplace, which allows New York residents to filter lists of available projects by state. Each project listing describes the project model (owned or subscription) and includes information on the anticipated methods of return for the customer.
EnergySage’s community solar project listings also include the eligible counties for each listing. If you find a project that matches your preferred model and you live in the eligible county, you can click either “Learn More” to be taken to the host’s web page, or click “Request Details” and a project host representative will contact you with more information.
Right now, EnergySage’s Community Solar Marketplace provides a comparison of seven different New York projects. If you’re a New York resident and you want to reduce your carbon footprint by supporting local clean energy, community solar is a great way to do it. Just be sure you understand your options and compare the projects in your area before making a decision.