Community Solar in New York: What You Need To Know

Here’s what you need to know about the growing community solar opportunity in the Empire State

Myles Fish November 21, 2019

If you live in New York you’ve probably heard the recent buzz about community solar. Developers are building new solar projects, community solar providers are offering subscriptions to local projects, and members of your community are signing up. Perhaps you’ve seen ads in your local newspaper, come across a salesperson at the farmers market, or heard about sweet solar deals on the radio.

What’s driving the community solar rush in NY?

New York’s solar surge is no accident: it is the result of a concerted state effort to decarbonize the grid and invest in renewable energy. In 2016, New York adopted a Clean Energy Standard (CES) which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% before 2030 and 80% before 2050. Governor Andrew Cuomo added to this movement in 2018 by pledging to bring New York to 100% carbon-free electricity before 2040.

The state also launched the NY-Sun Program in an effort to build a clean energy system that is affordable and accessible. As part of New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) plan, the NY-Sun program “help[s] make it possible for New Yorkers to choose clean energy while lowering their energy costs.” Sound familiar? These are the same motivating factors behind most community solar programs. Unsurprisingly, community solar has become a key tool of NY-Sun.

Although community solar has been around in New York since 2015, it has recently been gaining a lot of momentum. Thanks to revised policy, solar projects are now allowed to be bigger and more small businesses are eligible to subscribe to projects. These policy revisions, along with new state incentives and clearer guidance have made New York a prime location for a community solar boom. Today, the state’s community solar program is an integral piece of New York’s green energy revolution.

NY-solar-map-v4
2000 – 2019 NY Statewide Solar Projects. Data Source: NYS DPS, NYISO via nyserda.ny.gov
So, what is community solar?

In short, community solar is a way for you to support solar and clean energy generation without installing your own solar panels and without directly sourcing your energy from solar. Community solar programs allow you to support solar and save money by subscribing to a solar farm located within your utility territory. As that farm generates electricity, your subscription generates solar credits which ultimately lower what you owe your utility for electricity.

How does it work?
SAVINGS DISCOUNT

Aside from supporting clean energy generation, one of the biggest draws to community solar is the savings discount. Once you subscribe to a solar farm and that solar farm begins generating electricity, you will begin to accumulate solar credits. These credits will be sent to your utility account and show up as a discount on your monthly electricity bill. You will then be billed for those credits at a discounted rate. Most community solar models in New York bill for solar credits at a fixed discount. BlueWave’s discount rate is 10%. For a closer look at how this discount plays out, check out the financial benefits section below.

SUBSCRIPTION SIZING

The amount of credits you will generate each month from your subscription depends on two factors: (1) your average historical electricity usage and (2) the project’s energy output. Providers such as BlueWave ensure that you receive the right amount of credits by examining the history of your household’s electric usage and determining the number of credits that you need to receive per month to match that usage. The number of credits you generate per month may not always exactly match your electricity usage. Variables like weather can affect a solar project’s performance, so the number of credits you receive can vary from month-to-month. If you receive more credits than you can use in any given the month, your credits will roll over into subsequent months.

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA

The program in New York is intended to serve “mass market” consumers. As a result, the program is relatively unique in how it determines eligibility. In New York, the average home is eligible for community solar while there are some restrictions for businesses. Many providers will also run a soft credit pull and require a minimum credit score to be able to subscribe to a community solar project.

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Other potential details to consider are up-front fees and cancellation requirements. If you sign up through BlueWave, it’s $0 to subscribe, $0 to cancel (and you can cancel anytime), and depending on the project you can expect to save somewhere between 5%-10% on electricity throughout the year.

What are the benefits?

Although community solar programs vary from state to state, the financial, communal, and environmental benefits have remained broadly consistent in programs across the county.

FINANCIAL BENEFITS

The financial benefits from community solar depend on a few factors. How much electricity you use per month, the cost of electricity in your area, and where your project is located can all impact how much you can expect to save. While savings vary from person-to-person and from project-to-project, it’s not uncommon for a community solar member to offset between 50% and 100% of the amount they owe their utility on an annual basis. Here is an example of what this could look like:

We will use a 75% offset to demonstrate potential savings.

The average New York residence spends about $110 per month on electricity or roughly $1,320 per year (EIA). If 75% of the bill is offset with credits ($990), and members save 10% on the credits they receive, savings would equal $99 for that year.

*The above is meant to demonstrate a range of potential financial benefits and is not meant to serve as a personal savings estimate. If you’d like a personal savings estimate, you can start an application or fill out the contact info form below.

ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

Signing up for community solar supports the addition of solar energy to the grid. This means that even though signing up does not directly replace energy generated from fossil fuels with energy generated from solar, signing up still supports the addition of more clean energy to New York’s electricity grid. Your support helps to clean our skies and contributes to a more sustainable future for New York’s power grid.

To put the environmental impact in perspective, we calculated the benefit of a standard, 5MW solar project. According to the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, electricity generated from a project of that size translates to:

  • The CO2 emissions from burning over 5 million pounds of coal
  • The CO2 emissions from over 500 thousand gallons of gasoline consumed
  • The annual electricity use of over 800 homes
BENEFITS TO THE COMMUNITY

Solar also benefits communities by supporting job growth. So far, the Solar Energy Industry Association reports that the solar industry has created 9,729 jobs in New York (SEIA). Boosting economic opportunity across the state, these jobs include manufacturing, wholesale trade and distribution, system design and development, and project installation.

These clean energy jobs are not just plentiful, they are also lucrative. According to the Brookings Institute, workers in clean energy earn hourly wages as much as 19 percent higher than the national average.