Community Renewables, Contributing More than Clean Energy

Solar project underway.

Solar project underway.

by: Michaela Ciovacco

New Yorkers for Clean Power hosted an online teach-in February 21 to teach New Yorkers about the importance of community renewables and what they can do to support them. Five guest speakers in the business of local, clean electricity presented on community solar and hydroelectric projects from New York City to St. Regis Falls. Panelists shared how community renewable projects work to provide electricity to local residents, and what policies are in place today that act as barriers in who can partake in clean, communal electricity.

Juan Parra, the Community Solar Program Manager of Solar One in NYC, explained how they engage underserved communities with green workforce training, teacher education, and community events while providing the PV technical services free of charge to residents in affordable housing. Many of Solar One’s projects are installed on top of warehouses to take advantage of the available space in an urban area. Sunset Park Solar, one of the three planned community solar projects for this year, will be built on top of an industrial manufacturing building in Sunset Park to provide electricity to 175 homes. This solar project will be NYC’s first cooperative community solar project operated by Co-op Power on behalf of the Sunset park residents and business owners who participate.

Cal Trumann, Solar Community Organizer for SunCommon in Ulster County, described the difference between purchase model projects and subscription projects. SunCommon is a purchase model, meaning that residents can purchase the amount of panels needed to provide electricity for their home and end up saving more than 10% on their electricity bill after financing. Subscribers for community solar projects will save 10% with the renewable energy credits (REC) they receive on their utility bill, which they then use to pay the bill from the solar provider. Trumann further explained the opportunity community solar projects provide people who cannot invest in rooftop solar. SunCommon’s thoughtful approach to planning and constructing projects includes no construction on arable farm land and no deforestation. In addition, they plant native wildflowers around their arrays to benefit the local ecosystem. Like Solar One in NYC, SunCommon works with local community members to build projects that will benefit the community directly.

Shifting to the hydroelectric community projects, Sara Bower, Co-Owner of Natural Power Group serving the Hudson Valley, told attendees about her family owned and operated dams which provide electricity to thousands of homes locally. Like most hydroelectric companies in NYS, Natural Power Group does not build new dams, which can be ecologically devastating to the surrounding area, but adopts old ones to harness clean electricity. The Natural Power Group dams range from 30 to 110 years old, with electricity production year round that carries over from season to season, so local residents have access to reliable, renewable electricity.

Emmett Smith, Founder of Northern Power & Light in St. Regis Falls, NY, went into some of history about hydroelectric dams were the first source of electricity for many towns and factories in New York and across the state. Like Natural Power Group, Northern Power & Light is family owned and operated, and they can also provide clean electricity to anyone with a National Grid bill range. Smith emphasized to listeners that a local dollar spent stays local and how community renewables strengthen the community as a whole, since it puts the power back into the hands of local residents over where the jobs will be created, where the projects located, and where the power will go.

Lastly, Jessica Azurlay, Executive Director of Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE), went through some of the barriers to New Yorkers taking advantage of renewable technology and what we need to push for. She highlighted how difficult it is for renewable projects to be built in New York due to exuberant interconnection costs (hooking-up a project to the grid), that residents with rooftop solar are not allowed to partake in community renewables simultaneously, that state and federal rebates and incentives need to dramatically increase to increase renewable technology adoption, and how credit score checks need to be reduced or eliminated so that all New Yorkers can have access to clean electricity, since all New Yorkers share the benefit of a cleaner environment.

Overall, the teach-in left listeners with the importance of supporting local businesses, particularly those in the renewable energy industry, and highlighted the benefit that community renewable projects bring to New Yorkers across the state, not only in clean energy, but in local job creation, environmental conservation, and democratic decision-making. With that, New Yorkers for Clean Power encourages people to take the power back with community renewable. Visit nyforcleanpower.org to learn what you can do for the renewable revolution or sign-up for future teach-ins.