My only sunshine

The Ulster Avenue site where Community Distributed Energy has been installed.

Mar Kelly of District Solar.

The solar panels on a new roof installed on an Ulster Avenue building owned by Kingston insurance executive Bob Ryan has a nifty feature. Produced by Prism Solar Technologies of Highland and installed by Jaffer Electric of Kingston and Sunrise Solar Solutions based in Westchester County, the panels produce electricity from both sunlight above and reflected light from the roof below. “This design increases power output,” explained a March 7 press release from Central Hudson, “providing more electrical energy from the same space.”

The project manager was Tom Kacandes of Inside Track Solar.

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The technical ingenuity of the installation is only the beginning of the project’s innovative character. A partnership between Ryan and fuel-oil and propane distributor Heritagenergy, the solar facility is the first example of Community Distributed Generation (called the Shared Renewables initiative by governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration) in Central Hudson’s eight-county service area. The state CDG regulations allow residential customers to purchase renewable energy in such projects.

According to Kenneth Davenport of Heritagenergy, the Ulster Avenue project is fully subscribed, with several dozen customers enrolled. The Heritagenergy subsidiary Heritage Solar uses an on-line solar management system to manage allocations of electricity produced by the solar panels to each of the enrollees.

How should such projects connect to the electrical grid?

“Shared Renewables expands consumer access to reliable, low-cost electricity generated from renewable-energy facilities,” former Public Service Commission chair Audrey Zibelman explained. “Shared Renewables places customers who do not own homes on an equal footing with traditional single-home customers and creates opportunities for low- and moderate-income families who don’t have access to electricity generated from renewable resources.” The rules governing CDGs are established by state regulators.

According to Central Hudson, as of January 2017 nearly 6900 homes, businesses or municipalities in its service area have installed solar electric systems, representing more than 63 megawatts of solar capacity — still a small fraction of total capacity.

New York State has ambitious energy goals. Its 2015 plan calls for half the state’s electricity to come from solar, wind, hydropower and biomass sources by 2030.

Meeting the state plan’s goals will require a revolution in thinking about the generation, distribution and consumption of electricity. By state law, energy sales to end-use customers and the accompanying service over local distribution lines are regulated by the Public Service Commission. The PSC has fostered the development of enterprises that provide energy to retail end-use customers as an alternative to energy supplied by the investor-owned utilities.

When it comes to solar entrepreneurship, the Hudson Valley is a hotbed of activity. Over 100 solar installers, educators, advocacy organizations and state energy officials attended the seventh annual Central Hudson Solar Summit last Thursday at Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie.

Faced with a logjam of more than 2000 solar projects, many of them speculative and incomplete, the PSC in January unveiled a system to prioritize and move forward on the applications. The PSC rules of the road were based on a year-long negotiation between the interests of the utilities and the developers and installers.

Investment in solar industry has been supported for many years by a federal tax credit that under a December 2015 law is being reduced by two-thirds in several annual steps ending in 2022. Unless the legislation is further amended, residential solar installations will no longer be eligible for a federal tax credit.

On March 8 a press release signaled the addition of a new player to the region’s solar talent. District Sun, a solar engineering and design firm, “has permanently relocated to New Paltz from Washington, D.C.,” it said. District Sun, whose owner is Mar Kelly, has undertaken solar projects powering a dozen agricultural operations in the Finger Lakes region of New York State in 2016. It was “already slated to exceed that total in 2017 as it enters the community solar market in Ulster County, New York,” the release said.

With the new state laws encouraging community solar projects in place, District Sun plans to sponsor ten one-acre mini-arrays in 2017. Most solar projects in the region seek to utilize 15 to 30 acres, District Sun noted.

The firm will handle the applications for the projects and the other paperwork. Its program will be structured to offer fixed long-term electric rates with options to buy in the future.

Owner Mar Kelly is a serial entrepreneur who describes her approach to landowners as “a crawl-walk-run approach to leasing their land.” Kelly, who attended last week’s solar summit, plans to be an active participant in the regional and local solar communities.

A dozen years ago, Kelly, a hiker and mountain biker, saw people in hiking boots and bathing suits at Lake Awosting. The scene was an epiphany for her. “I got hooked,” she said.

She and her partner recently relocated here, living in Gardiner and renting an office at the New Paltz co-working space One Epic Place. Kelly’s lived in a lot of places. “There’s more to do here culturally,” she explained.

After being involved in various clean-technology projects and offering a variety of environmental and clean-energy services to financial institutions and large corporations, Kelly saw niche business opportunities in the solar-energy field. At that time, “no one else was doing it,” she said. She did some selling for a big solar-energy company called Conergy, went to graduate school and eventually started District Solar.

District Sun’s goal is to install more than 60,000 photovoltaic panels at its combined projects in 2017.

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