As the cost of solar technology drops, while the government continues to offer rebates and tax credits, and alarming weather stirs the planet, the idea of installing solar panels on the house becomes increasingly attractive. But what if your roof doesn’t face south or you have a mountain in the back yard, blocking sunbeams?
Community solar arrays offer homeowners and businesses the chance to either buy or subscribe to a number of solar panels on an installation some distance away. Solar credits, based on the number of panels, reduce the charges on the owner’s or subscriber’s utility bill. There are several ways community members can participate.
Solar Generation, a company that started in Woodstock and now has its office just outside Kingston, is in the process of building several community arrays. Owner Paul McMenemy said two projects in the Saugerties area are close to obtaining permits and are expected to be operational by late summer, available only to Central Hudson customers. Two arrays in NYSEG’s territory are also in the works but will not be completed until next year.
The model of subscription offered by Solar Generation involves “renting” panels to customers to cover their power usage for a specific time period, entailing a savings of 10 to 15 percent on utility bills. There is no cost to the subscriber, who receives credit from the power company for the energy generated by the panels. The subscriber pays the discounted rate to the project developer, in exchange for installing and maintaining the panels. While the savings are small, said McMenemy, no outlay of money is required, and “you get the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing something for environment by not relying on fossil fuels for the power load at your house.”
After communicating with the developer, McMenemy explained, “You receive a form that you sign, saying you’d like to receive your electrons from this particular array. If your bill from Central Hudson is $100, you get $100 worth of power from the panels, and we bill you $85 to $90. You still have to pay the service fee to be hooked up to the grid. Central Hudson and others are lowering the service fee by $3 from $24 per month to $21 in our area.”
Some companies using the subscription model charge customers a fee for renting the panels. In both subscription styles, the developer keeps the tax credits offered by the government.
Community solar is supported by the governor and the Public Service Commission, and the utilities have been cooperating, despite the challenges they face from the intermittent nature of the solar supply. “Clouds affect the load from the panels,” McMenemy said, “and it’s hard for the utility to manage. For us as developers, we have to make sure there are lots of safety shutoff circuits, to protect from a sudden boost of energy. The builder pays for it.” He pointed out the advantage of using a local developer providing employment to workers who pay taxes locally.
SunCommon, an installer that started in Vermont and acquired the Rhinebeck company Hudson Solar, uses an ownership model in the two Central Hudson-connected arrays they have up and running. One is in Orange County, and the other is hosted by the Pointe of Praise Family Life Center in Kingston. Each of the two arrays has the capacity to serve about 60 households.
Buyers purchase enough panels to cover their electricity needs, based on recent utility bills. They receive the tax credits and NYSERDA rebate, and their savings on power is expected to be close to 30 percent of their previous billing. When asked the per-panel price, Susannah Bradley of SunCommon said, “We don’t talk about general pricing because there are variations. The kilowatt-hour cost is about 11 cents, as compared with 16.8 cents for Central Hudson. Your cost is a bit higher, if you finance, of course.” A yearly maintenance cost of $10 per panel covers such needs as mowing and insurance
The Pointe of Praise church has received panels in exchange for the use of their land to host the array, which went online in early March. They are donating 75 percent of their panels to low- and moderate-income seniors in the congregation. Pollinator-friendly vegetation will be planted around the array. SunCommon offers no-money-down financing options, and 35 percent of the panels in the Kingston array are still available for purchase. See the company website at https://suncommon.com.
SunCommon has plans to build arrays for NYSEG customers as well but can’t predict when they will be available.
Clearway Community Solar is a much larger developer with headquarters in San Francisco, assets across 28 states, and a solar farm connected to Central Hudson in the Orange County town of Minisink. They offer subscriptions without charge and require a credit score of 650 to qualify. They can be reached through their website, https://www.clearwaycommunitysolar.com.
Solar Generation is in the process of fine-tuning the design of its Saugerties arrays with the utility. “Once I’m a little further down the line with the utility,” said McMenemy, “we’ll start marketing. Anyone with a Central Hudson meter, including commercial and town meters, can subscribe. People can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll put them on our list. When we get closer to operating, we’ll sign them up.”
Like SunCommon, Solar Generation also installs individual solar arrays for homes and businesses.