New York’s Shared Clean Energy initiative could make it possible for millions of renters and apartment dwellers to choose solar, even if they don’t own the property or have adequate roof space.
Residential solar is a viable means of producing your own power, locking in your electricity costs for the long run, and reaping big savings over the years, but in order to get rooftop solar in most places, you had to be the home or building owner. And that makes some sense, as renters and leasers are generally only in one place for a limited time (even if it’s a number of years), and home-sized solar systems aren’t exactly portable, so making an investment in a solar PV array doesn’t play out for them.
But based on the growing trend of more public support for renewable energy, there are a large number of people out there that would choose solar power if they could, and that’s where the idea of shared solar comes in. Shared, or community, solar allows people to opt for clean renewable energy from a local solar plant, in essence owning a part of it instead of owning their own dedicated system.
For example, in a multi-unit building, there may be some support for solar, but not enough to get all of the other owners to invest in installing a rooftop array. Or perhaps the roof of the building isn’t a good location for solar panels, due to shading, limited space, or poor sun orientation, so it doesn’t make sense to attempt solar directly on the building. And for renters and lease holders, it’s usually not very practical to have a personal solar array on the building, so solar isn’t really a viable option, even if you wanted to make the investment.
The progress on New York’s Shared Clean Energy program is a good sign that solar in New York is about to take a great big step forward, and one which could eventually end up supporting the construction and operation of many more large-scale solar plants in the Empire State.
“Today solar is creating thousands of jobs in New York and pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy all while building a cleaner, more resilient energy supply. Yet a majority of our residents and businesses cannot participate in that growing solar marketplace simply because they do not own rooftops that are suitable for solar. This bill would make solar an option for renters and millions of other New Yorkers for the first time, in turn delivering more solar benefits to our state.” – Amy Paulin (D-88), New York State Assemblymember, Energy Committee Chair and bill sponsor
Although a home solar system or a rooftop solar array on a commercial building is certainly a desirable thing, and an investment which is virtually guaranteed to pay for itself (and then some, producing a great return for many years), it’s not for everybody. And because of that, community solar or shared solar will probably end up being a big part of the renewable energy revolution for those living in cities, as well as in communities with large numbers of renters.
Combining the solar power demands of many customers into a single larger array through shared solar programs allows for better systems to be installed, taking advantage of some of the economies of scale, and enabling the choice of an optimal location and orientation for the solar plant, instead of many smaller PV systems scattered around the city. And because community solar, which has no real up-front cost for residents (which there is when purchasing a residential solar system), can make choosing clean energy so much easier for people, it could be a crucial element in increasing solar awareness and bringing it more into the mainstream, so going solar just seems natural and easy.
The good news is, it’s already happening, as more people choose solar power for practical reasons, such as costs and return on investment, instead of for environmental reasons. One recent editorial from Rochester New York, titled “Sun gods: Why solar power isn’t just for hippies anymore” has a few examples of the type of progress that solar is making across all sorts of demographics, in part due to the continual rise of already high electricity costs in New York, as well as the desire to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.
For the potential solar homeowner, New York state is also in the process of getting their property tax exemption renewed through 2025, assuming Governor Cuomo signs off on it, which would ensure that a property’s tax burden won’t increase after installing a solar power system. This can be a significant benefit for property owners, as solar has been shown to increase a home’s value, and a higher property tax shouldn’t be the consequence of investing in clean renewable energy and increasing the resiliency of the grid.
New York has a number of other solar incentives, and because individual municipalities in the state also offer incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy, going solar in New York can be an affordable and cost-effective method of saving money year after year.