Community Solar – What it is and how it works
By: Laura Kosbar
If you live in the Town of Yorktown, you may have recently received a letter indicating that the Town is enrolling its eligible electric accounts in Sustainable Westchester’s Community Solar program, and suggesting that residents consider participating in this program as well. For many people, this may be the first time that you have heard of “Community Solar”, and you may have additional questions as to what it is and how it works.
So – what is Community Solar?
Community Solar is a fairly new program which encourages solar development within local communities. These installations may be on the roofs of commercial buildings, over parking areas, or even in open fields. Community Solar projects are a financial win-win-win. They produce profits and jobs for the companies that install and manage the projects – which can then go on to create additional solar projects. They result in an annual revenue stream for the business or landowner where the solar farm is installed – for example, the Town of Yorktown is anticipating about $100,000 annually from the proposed solar carport at the Granite Knolls Sports complex. Community Solar also provides savings of up to 10% off of the electricity bills of its subscribers!
But wait – there’s more… Community Solar projects are also beneficial for the environment. The clean, renewable electricity produced at the community solar farm goes directly into the local electric grid. These installations increase the renewably generated electricity used by New Yorkers, which reduces the need for electricity generated by conventional gas or coal fired plants. They also help NYS meet its ambitious goal of having 70% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% by 2040, as set out in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The CLCPA has positioned New York as one of the leading states in climate action in the US.
So, let’s get back to how Community Solar programs can help individuals in our community. They allow most utility customers – homeowners, renters, religious institutions, nonprofits, and even some businesses – to support and benefit from solar power generation, without requiring investment in solar panel installation on their property. If you choose to become a subscriber in a Community Solar project, the solar energy generated by that project will save you up to 10% on your monthly electric bills! Through Sustainable Westchester’s program, there is no cost to join or fees to cancel one’s Community Solar subscription.
There are already several community solar farms that have been completed or are under development in Yorktown, including Ecogy, Arcadia Community Solar (269 kW), the Staples Plaza project (557 kW), and the recently announced solar carport planned at the Granite Knolls sports complex. But you do not have to subscribe to a project in your immediate community. If you visit the Sustainable Westchester website (www.SustainableWestchester.org/Solar) , you can learn more and click “Sign Up” to find a listing of projects that are currently accepting new subscribers within your utility territory (different projects are associated with either Con Ed or NYSEG) and sign up for Community Solar in as little as seven minutes! Note that in most cases, the projects accepting subscribers are still in the process of being built and it could be several months before they come online. New projects are added frequently, however, as the interest in Community Solar programs grows and when you enroll, you are helping to spur more solar development.
How to join a Community Solar Project?
It starts when you go to Sustainable Westchester (https://sustainablewestchester.org/solar/#benefits) and identify a project associated with your utility territory (different projects are associated with Con Ed and NYSEG) that is currently accepting new subscribers, and sign up. Signing up for a project can take as little as seven minutes! To enroll, have your utility bill and banking details (required for the automated payment for the solar credits) handy.
The Nitty Gritty of how Community Solar subscriptions work…
Once you sign up for a solar project, Sustainable Westchester and its partners will evaluate your historical electricity usage and allocate a portion of the solar installation’s expected output to your subscription – you can think of it as setting aside a certain number of solar panels for your energy use. Then, when the solar panels come online, the power they produce goes directly into your utility’s electric grid, for which you earn a monthly “solar credit” for your portion of the electricity produced by your Community Solar installation – you will tend to get more credits in the summer and less during the shorter days of winter.
The credits from your subscription are automatically applied to your monthly electric bill. Note that the credits do not apply just to the amount of power you used, but to your entire electric bill. The Community Solar project will charge you (via autopay) 90% of the value of the credits used for your electric bill – so you get a 10% discount. For example, your utility charges you $115 for electricity on your monthly bill and you receive a $100 solar credit for your share of the electricity generated by the solar farm. Your utility bill is reduced by the credit and you pay the remaining $15 to your utility. Then, the solar farm bills you for the $100 solar credit at a 10% discount, and you pay $90 for the solar credit and save $10 that month. In the summer, you may have excess credits that will roll over and be applied to future months bills to maximize your savings all year long.
Participating in Community Solar is a great way for people who rent, homeowners who can’t or don’t choose to install rooftop solar, or certain institutions that wish to help the planet while helping themselves – by “going green” and supporting the transition to renewable electric power while saving money. Can you think of something more worthwhile that you could accomplish in 7 minutes today?
Yorktown100 is a 100% volunteer group of neighbors working to reduce our carbon footprint by 5% a year through various programs. Contact us if you would like to learn more, or would like to join. We welcome new members! Visit us at https://yorktown100.org/ and help make a difference.
Laura Kosbar is a retired IBM researcher. She is a member of Yorktown100 and also involved with the Mohegan Lake Improvement District.