Community Solar: Ready, Set…Wait…Wait…Wait…Go?

As lawmakers gathered in Albany, New York, this past week to discuss the closing of the aging Indian Point Nuclear Plant — and how to replace the looming loss of 2,000 MW of electric generation capacity — more than 8,000 solar employees across New York continued working to ensure a brighter future for the state’s residents.

New York has long been a solar leader and maintains its position as one of the top 10 solar states in the country, with more than 900 MW of solar operating statewide. There are more than 450 MW of solar installed on rooftops across New York, enough to power more than 57,000 homes. Those customers are saving money on their electric bills and have the satisfaction of knowing they’ve chosen safe, reliable, clean energy. And in 2015, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) approved a new solar business model — known as community solar — that has the potential to help replace Indian Point’s power while also making solar a possibility for even more New Yorkers.

Community solar programs can provide access to local, affordable, clean energy to all electricity customers, most of whom do not have that option today, because they rent their home or business or their roof isn’t suitable for solar panels. Under a community solar program, residents, businesses, schools and others can subscribe to a local community solar project and receive credit on their electric bills for their portion of the clean power produced.

Although the PSC already authorized community solar in 2015, it is currently deliberating game-changing Value of Distributed Energy Resources rules that will affect how customers who participate in community solar will be compensated for the power they produce. The PSC is expected to issue its decision today. Solar companies, community groups, and investors that want to move forward with community solar projects have been in a holding pattern for over a year, waiting for the regulatory certainty needed from the PSC to move forward.

Community solar providers have not yet been able to invest significantly in New York to create the thriving solar market that everyone — including Governor Andrew Cuomo — would like to see. In his 2017 State of the State address, Cuomo announced that “over 325 MW of community-owned solar has advanced in the pipeline and is slated for support from the governor’s $1 billion NY-Sun program.” Unfortunately, 325 MW of community solar could end up becoming a nice aspiration instead of a reality if the PSC’s forthcoming rules do not come out right.

Across the country, many states and utilities are embracing community solar in an effort to expand access to clean energy. In Massachusetts, community solar projects totaling nearly 100 MW are now operating, with an additional 300 MW in the pipeline. Colorado is anticipating close to 200 MW of community solar through 2019. In Minnesota, a nascent state market, there are already more than 57 MW installed and 145 MW under construction, with more on the way.

Given that New York’s population is greater than all three of those states combined, making community solar available at a scale comparable to those leading states is well within reach. And fortunately, many of New York’s pending community solar projects are located in the lower Hudson Valley, meaning that the jobs and local tax revenues associated with those projects can help make up for those lost by Indian Point’s closure.

It is time for the PSC to issue a decision in its deliberations about community solar that will support a robust community solar market, in order to open the door — for all New Yorkers — to the benefits of clean, affordable solar energy.

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Anne Reynolds is Executive Director of ACE NY, a member-based advocacy organization that promotes renewable energy development in New York State. Jeff Cramer is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a business-led trade organization that works to expand access to clean, local affordable energy nationwide through community solar.

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