According to a new report from the New York Solar Energy Industries Association (NYSEIA), New York could build on its strong community solar track record and expand solar access to hundreds of thousands more New Yorkers by removing regulatory barriers and improving offsetting for distributed solar energy. .
The NYSEIA report “Realizing the Potential for Community Solar in New York State: Benefits, Barriers and Solutions” documents the impressive growth of Community Solar in New York since its inception in 2015 and gives policy makers detailed recommendations for expanding this market segment which is critically important to reaching low and middle income customers and meeting the state's climate protection goals.
“Community Solar has the potential to dramatically expand affordable access to clean energy for millions of New Yorkers, and its rapid growth across the state over the past five years is testament to its benefits and the vision and support of the Public Service Commission and NYSERDA, ”said Shyam Mehta, Executive Director of NYSEIA. “It is important that regulatory, legislative, and programming policymakers understand the barriers identified in this report and the recommendations on how to overcome those barriers to ensure the continued success of Community Solar in New York going forward.”
Around 50% of people across the country do not have access to solar energy solutions, be it because they do not have a suitable attic space, do not own a home, or have financial barriers to using solar energy. These barriers are even more acute for city dwellers and low-income customers. Community solar programs can help remove both the physical and financial barriers to solar use. With Community Solar, individual subscribers can benefit directly from a solar system that is located elsewhere in the community, so that no roof space is required.
By December 2020, 371 municipal solar projects with a capacity of 497 MW were in operation in the state. Almost 90% of that capacity was installed in 2019 and 2020, reflecting the successful launch and scaling of the industry. About 63% of all solar capacity installed in New York in 2020 was part of the community solar program, and at the national level, the state was the largest state municipal solar market in terms of 2020 installs and the second largest in terms of cumulative deployments.
Despite these benefits and achievements, the NYSEIA research report highlights the barriers to future growth in this important market segment. Interconnection capacity constraints, power distribution system upgrade costs, utility interconnection delays, customer awareness, and retreats from incentives pose significant challenges in Community Solar's ability to bring renewable energy benefits to more New Yorkers. Community opposition to ground-based solar systems and inconsistent local property tax systems continue to dampen the growth of the industry.
One of the biggest obstacles to Community Solar – which is particularly relevant for US and low-income customers – is the governmental restriction that Community Solar projects must be located in the same coverage area as the subscriber. This has resulted in extreme disparities in geographic access to community solar projects: Only 1% of Con Edison's 3.4 million customers would be served by operational and planned projects – compared to 33% for National Grid and 17% for NYSEG-RGE.
Photo: For a full copy of the report and NYSEIA's detailed recommendations on removing the barriers to solar growth in the New York community, click here.