Long Island as Leader
NYSERDA isn't the only public entity working to bring more solar to New York. Two other authorities manage and deliver large amounts of electricity in the state: The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and the New York Power Authority (NYPA).
Both are focusing strongly on solar. In fact, LIPA is New York's star when it comes to large-scale development. With 1.1 million customers, LIPA is a large municipal utility, and has the second-highest revenue among US municipal electric utilities. LIPA also has fostered more large-scale solar - 50 MW - than any other New York utility (see sidebar opposite). And it has plans for even more.
Why has LIPA developed so much more large-scale solar than any other utility in the state? First, its electricity rates are among the highest, creating a smaller gap between grid and solar prices than is found in other parts of the state. Second, as a municipal utility it operates with a nimbleness not possible for investor-owned utilities that are subject to greater state regulation and oversight.
'Politically, it is easier for LIPA. They govern themselves, like any municipal utility. They have a more streamlined process,' said Hitt. LIPA is able to avoid a problem that has held up solar development in New York: co-ordination among many players. 'It isn't easy getting all of the players around the table,' she said.
Moreover, Long Island has weather fit for PV. 'It is an obvious resource - we have sunny days most days of the year here,' said Michael Hervey, LIPA's CEO.
Now, LIPA plans to continue advancing solar by introducing the state's first feed-in tariff (FiT). 'Governor Cuomo's announcement of quadrupling of solar in New York State fits well with our plan,' said Hervey. 'Our energy plan calls for the next 50 MW block of solar. What we've decided to do is not go out for a request for proposals, but introduce a feed-in tariff.'
Details of the FiT were being worked out this spring, with LIPA scheduling a vote of its board on the plan in May, as REW goes to press. The FiT marks a diversion from the utility's initial approach to securing large-scale solar. In the past, LIPA issued a solicitation, chose winning developers and projects, and then signed long-term power purchase agreements with them. The long-term commitments from a credit-worthy utility helped the projects secure financing.
LIPA expects the FiT to lead to even more large-scale solar on the island. 'The FiT and fast-track interconnection standards will open up quite a bit of opportunity for commercial rooftop, commercial parking lots, landfills - places that are several acres in size. We're making it simpler for developers to provide us with solar in that size tranche,' said Hervey.
Meanwhile, the New York Power Authority, the largest state-owned power organisation in the US and operator of several hydroelectric facilities, has launched a programme to drive down solar costs. Called the NY-Sun Solar Market Acceleration Programme, or Solar MAP, the $30 million, five-year programme will focus on PV research, training and demonstration projects.
'The NY-Sun Solar Market Acceleration Programme is designed to target and reduce solar development costs to spur New York's technology leadership in this important renewable energy market,' said Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA's president and chief executive officer.
NYPA will seek studies on reducing costs for solar equipment, including racks, inverters, monitoring devices and modules. The aim is to demonstrate new technology, system-integration strategies, cost reductions and safety. NYPA will also explore soft-cost reduction strategies to standardise permitting and streamline grid integration.
Separately, the authority has used its low-cost hydropower to help solar manufacturing in the state. NYPA granted hydropower allocations to Globe Specialty Metals when the company reopened and expanded by $60 million in western New York in order to manufacture silicon for solar power systems. NYPA also allocated hydropower to Precision Electro Minerals, in western New York, which manufactures fused silica for solar-panel grade silicon and other industrial products.
On a less optimistic note, NYPA closed a solicitation in spring 2012 without making an award for 100 MW of PV. Issued in 2010, the solicitation sought private developers who would own and operate solar systems at public facilities. The solicitation failed for several reasons, according to NYPA, including public facilities' reluctance to sign long-term leases and a realisation that the programme would do little to increase local manufacturing since most of the equipment purchased would come from outside the state.
Meanwhile, legislation to set a state goal of developing between 2.5 GW and 5 GW of solar was again pending at the time of writing. And again its fate was uncertain as lawmakers instead focused on other issues, trying to finish up their work before the session's culmination in late June.
Industry observers are carefully watching New York because the stakes, they say, go beyond the state and could have repercussions for the larger Northeast, a region that is a prize for solar developers because of its large electricity demand and high prices. 'In the aggregate when you look at the Northeast, it is shaping up to be a very sizeable, very robust market,' said Zalcman. 'New York has 35,000 MW peak. So it is a very big and diverse energy market and tends to be a regional leader. As goes New York, so goes much of the rest of the region.'
A Solar Island Apart
While much of New York has been slow to develop large-scale solar, Long Island is an exception. At the state's southern border off of New York City, the island is home to the East Coast's largest solar array, the 32 MW Long Island Solar Farm.
The project emerged from a solicitation issued by the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), which resulted in two separate awards, one to BP Solar and the other to enXco, an affiliate of EDF Energies Nouvelles. BP pursued the solar farm, while enXco built a 17 MW carport solar project. In both cases, LIPA bought the capacity, energy and associated renewable energy credits.
BP built the solar farm at the Brookhaven National Laboratory solar farm in conjunction with the US Department of Energy (DOE), installing 164,312 crystalline solar photovoltaic modules within the smallest footprint of an array of its size in the nation. Owned in part by Met Life, the project began delivering power in November 2011, and won Renewable Energy World's Readers Choice Award in 2012.
The solar farm is also being used by Brookhaven to study the hour-by-hour or even minute-by-minute microclimate effects of solar in the Northeast, an effort expected to further our understanding of grid reliability and integration of intermittent resources. The DOE facility employees more than 3000 scientists, engineers and staff, and hosts about 4000 guest researchers annually.
LIPA estimates it will pay $298 million for power from the solar farm (including interconnection costs) under its 20-year power purchase agreement, amounting to about 60 cents/month for the typical residential customer. LIPA officials envision the solar power providing price stability over the years to offset fossil fuel volatility.
Meanwhile, the enXco carport project, known as the Eastern Long Island Solar Project, remained under construction in the spring 2012 on 18 ha. enXco, which diversified from wind to add solar to its business in 2008, is installing 60,000 Suntech grid-connected modules largely in car parking lots on government-owned property. Seven sites will host the panels, and collect lease revenue.
'It is a great use of what is otherwise a parking lot to produce power,' said Hervey. Both the enXco Solar Carport and BP Solar Farm show the advantages of public-private partnerships to develop solar, said Hervey.
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