Community Solar Passes the NY Public Service Commission

July 17, 2015
By Wyldon King Fishman

If you live or work in a shady location, summertime temperatures can be a little cooler around your home or business. Shade is a wonderful thing and it’s smart to have shade even if it’s only an awning. But, you may have figured out you can’t have solar modules without sun. Welcome to Community Solar!

Low-income renters, multifamily buildings, schools, municipal governments, residential and commercial customers can now band together and finance a solar system located nearby in a field or on a big, sunny warehouse rooftop. How to? First, find 10 or more “families” or businesses and a leader who will be the point person/supervisor of the whole project. Everyone needs to be located fairly close to one another. Everyone shares a piece of the system pie. Every month every member’s utility bill reflects the “net metering credit” of your portion of the system. Not keen to handle the job? Contact solar installation consultants and contractors. Listening to the professionals will help your group understand the ins and outs of financing, locations, and utility hook ups for access to transmission lines. They’ll educate you and then turn around and come out and bid on your project. You’ll have decisions to make about land acquisition, site surveys, engineering studies and fees to pay for permits. (And, later, “cut over” party to plan!)

A solar electricity generation system needs full sun to produce lots of electricity. If the system is shaded even a little bit, the rebates are unattainable. If you have a sunny spot away from your building, you can use it. If not, why not join together with others and buy a Shared Renewable Energy System?

Local solar, wind and “other” renewable energy projects qualify. Perhaps heat and cooling from geothermal ground sources and concentrating solar thermal will be included.


First Phase October 19, 2015: 1. Limited to benefitting low-income customers with high demand for power not easily met by the current utility grid. 2. Supporting economically distressed communities by ensuring at least 20% of the participants are low and moderate income customers.

Second Phase May 1, 2016: All can participate in all utility territories.

Colorado was the first state to allow what was then called Solar Gardens. They were limited by caps. Overnight they caps were filled to capacity. The utilities complained about transmission line usage. Over time some utilities began to see the advantage of Solar Gardens where the electric load was very high and the service was not dependable. The New York Solar Energy Society got a call from the staff in the Budget and Taxation Department asking why this wasn’t happening in NY. Our response had a lot to do with getting a farm or a camp with utility service from different utilities. The barn over on the other side of the road got electricity from a pole nearby that was not serviced by the same utility the house was. A camp had a sunny field next to the pole from a utility that didn’t service the main kitchen. Different utilities didn’t have to cooperate, share transmission lines and take care of the extra billing. Now we shall see if progress has been made. The details have not been finalized.

After six years of working with the energy committees of the legislature we never got the bill we needed. Over the past year Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through the Shared Renewable Initiative or Community Net Metering as part of his Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) Initiative. This is a surprise win-win for all New Yorkers seeking clean, affordable energy. Local Energy production can withstand storms better with shorter transmission lines. Long distance transmission lines lose 8 – 18% of the electricity generated at the power plant! With power generation nearby every electron can be used. Eliminate the cost of extraction and transportation and expensive transmission line and benefit from lower costs and healthy clean air and water.

Equal access to renewable energy has come to New York. NYState’s Public Service Commission voted and has issued a final order telling the utilities the time has come to allow any group to buy a solar energy generation system, hook it up to the grid and credit the members of the group every month. The future is bright for locals to design and implement a grid for your community. Along with the Community Solar announcement came more than 80 microgrid research grants winners. Your community solar farm can be joined by wind and combined with battery backup for uninterruptable power supply. Stay tuned and prepare now to find a group interested in free fuel from the sun and wind powering your community.

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