Story by Shelley R. Clapper
The Town of Warwick hosted a panel discussion on Mon., Jan. 22 that featured three solar energy experts. Attending the meeting were Town of Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton and Warwick Village Mayor Newhard.
Warwick is a SolSmart Gold Designee. Solsmart is a U.S. Department of Energy funded recognition program for communities that have taken steps to reduce solar costs and barriers and promote the growth of a mature local solar market. Currently there are 163 communities throughout the country recognized by SolSmart as either gold, silver or bronze designees.
Navigating Solar in Local Communities
The first panelist to speak was Houtan Moaveni, who has the dual role of Deputy Director of New York Sun Initiative and New York State Distributed Generation Interconnection Ombudsman at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
Moaveni gave a presentation on navigating solar energy in local communities and the new NYSERDA resources and assistance for local governments. He said that Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) is Governor Andrew Cuomo’s strategy to build a clean, resilient and affordable energy system for all New York residents. The Clean Energy Standard is 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.
The Clean Energy Fund (CEF) is a ten-year, five billion dollar funding commitment. Its goal is to reshape New York’s energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy innovation process. It reduces the cost of clean energy and accelerates the adoption of energy efficiency to reduce load. It increases renewable energy to meet demand. It also mobilizes private investment in clean energy. He said that part of that goal is to build a self-sustaining solar energy industry in New York State.
Community Solar Projects
Moaveni spoke about community solar projects in New York State. He said that community solar is a new business model. The goal was to provide solar energy to a larger community of people, such as those who cannot afford their own homes. In this model, the members of the community buy shares in a solar project. Solar electric panels are installed offsite in sunny locations to provide renewable energy for subscribing members. Any utility customer (home or business) can be a subscribing member. Each subscriber’s utility bill is credited accordingly when excess energy is produced. He said that the first solar community project was built in Ithaca, NY. Orange County is number one in the number of proposed community projects out of 41 counties.
NY Solar Guidebook Homepage
Moaveni directed the audience to the New York State Guidebook Homepage at www.nyserda.ny.go/Solar, which helps local governments adopt solar energy in their communities.
“We are trying to empower local leaders with resources and information so that they can make decisions for their community. We provide technical assistance for local governments. You can simply go to our website and we will get back to you in 24 hours,” said Moaveni.
Growth in Solar Industry
Moaveni said that solar power is the fastest growing industry in the world. Since 2011, solar power in New York State has grown 900 percent – 950 Mega Watts of solar energy have been installed state-wide and 60 percent of these projects are residential.
Warwick School District Commended
Moaveni commended the recent installation of solar panels in the Warwick Valley Central School District, saying, “Your school, by going solar, saves over 2,000,000 Kwh of electricity per year. The bottom line is that they will be saving $200,000 per year.”
Moaveni described responsible steps taken by the District such as installing trees to hide the panels. In response to a question from an audience member, Moaveni said that solar panels on a ten acre plot of land can generate enough electricity to supply 300 households.
The next panelist to speak was Jeff Irish, the founder and president of Hudson Solar, a Rhinebeck-based family business that designs and installs solar systems for residential, commercial, agricultural, municipal, and non-profit organizations.
Irish provided a brief history of his company saying, “Solar power will soon be an option for everyone with a utility bill.”
He said that his company’s first solar energy system was turned on in December 2002 in Rhinebeck, NY. Chris, from Cornwall, a member in the audience, was acknowledged as Irish’s first customer in Orange County in 2005. Irish said that there are 4,247 residential solar energy systems in Orange County.
“They are all on a south facing roof or on a field wide open to the sun,” said Irish.
He explained that three out of four homes in the past 15 years could not go solar as they had too many trees, no open land, small roof surfaces or roofs facing different directions.
“New York State has come to the rescue in having community solar projects. In my opinion utilities companies don’t like it,” said Irish.
He explained that the utility companies are under direct order from the Public Utilities Services to allow the installation of solar panels. Community solar has been implemented by the State to allow everyone to go solar, explaining that no wires need to be run or any addition home construction.
Chester Community Solar
Irish spoke of a community solar project in Chester, just off of Kings Hwy., where 180 solar panels will be installed on one and a half acres. Fifty-two to 58 homes will benefit from this. They have Planning Board approval and expect to start generating electricity in April 2018.
Irish explained the difference between a subscription model and a purchase model when buying solar energy. With the subscription model, the customer pays no money down. It is similar to renting. The advantage to the consumer is that he/she can save 10 percent on their energy bill. The purchase model is when a customer puts the money up front and owns an asset. Irish said that solar panels last about 25 years and they slowly degrade over time.
The last panelist to speak was Eric Will, a manager at Geronimo Energy, an independent North American renewable energy development company based in Minneapolis, MN. Geronimo provides renewable electric energy development solutions for utilities, independent power producers, corporations and public entities.
Will spoke about New York States clean energy standard of 50 percent renewal energy by 2030 and indicated that the state expected to invest in 2017 up to 2.5 billion dollars in new clean energy projects, with more than 200 project proposals. Will provided a list of annual MWh procurement targets from 2017 to 2021. The procurements in 2017 were 1,966,449 MWh and in 2021 they are targeted to be 2,188,671 MWh.
Project Sitting Considerations
Will spoke about Project Sitting when considering solar energy. There are interconnection considerations such as substation access, fatal flaw considerations like being on a FEMA floodplain for example, and site topography. Environmental considerations include wetlands and sensitive species habitats and local land use regulations.
Geronimo makes an effort at low impact on the environment in its design and development. The company aims at minimal ground disturbance with a vibrated/driven foundation and using native and pollinator seeding. The land used is compatible for agricultural use as agricultural style fencing is used and animal grazing is not disturbed.
The presentations were followed by a question and answer session with the three panelists.