It’s a big day for New York- the Public Service Commission (PSC) approved a Shared Renewables Program! Now, any New Yorker who receives an electricity bill will soon be able to participate in the solar revolution. This is a huge win for equity, the environment, affordable living, and jobs.
So what does this actually mean for you? Up until today, if you are a renter, a homeowner with a shaded roof, or a household without the necessary savings or credit to adopt rooftop solar technology, lower-cost solar energy was out of your reach. Now, if your household pays a Con Edison bill, you will be able to opt into a shared solar facility at an optimal location anywhere in NYC (i.e. within the same utility service territory and load zone). You’ll be able to sign up for a percentage of the solar array's electricity output, at a minimum of 1,000 kWh per year and a maximum of your historic average annual electricity consumption. If you are ready to make an investment, you will be able to purchase the panels upfront and own them as an asset, even though they aren’t on your roof. Or, if you don’t wish to pay upfront, you'll have the option to subscribe to the electricity generation of the solar panels and pay on a monthly basis. In either case, you will receive a credit on your Con Ed bill for the electricity generated by your share of the shared solar array, through a policy called “community net metering.”
Community members can also come together to form a shared solar project, by organizing a special purpose entity, most commonly structured as a LLC, to own and operate the system. Members of such a project could either invest in the LLC and/or just sign up to receive electricity bill credits. Projects can also be formed by non-profit organizations to benefit local constituents.
Let’s take the example of Here Comes Solar’s planned project to develop a shared solar array in Sunset Park, Brooklyn in partnership with UPROSE, a social and environmental justice organization in the neighborhood. We are currently in conversation with several public and private property owners about putting a shared solar array on their site, specifically to serve low-income households in the neighborhood. Our shared solar project might be on the rooftop of an industrial facility, big box store or bus depot, or even as a canopy over a large parking lot or a deck over a rail yard. Once we have the site locked down, low-income families in Sunset Park will be able to sign up to participate through UPROSE. All participants will be able to go solar with no upfront payment and pay a lower rate for their solar electricity than what they are currently paying Con Edison per unit of energy (kWh).
The first phase of New York’s shared renewables program, what the PSC is calling Community Distributed Generation, starts on October 19, 2015. Applications will be accepted for projects which meet one of two criteria:
1) At least 20% of participants must receive Heating Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) benefits or a low-income discounted utility rate, and/or
2) Projects must be located in strategic areas where local electricity production could most improve grid reliability, as will determined by the electric utilities.
Starting on May 1, 2016, shared solar projects will be able to be located anywhere in an investor-owned utility territory across the state. A Low-Income Collaborative will be formed within 60 days from now to recommend policies and incentives to ensure participation from low- and moderate-income families during the second phase of the program.
Today’s announcement from the Public Service Commission is a big step toward democratizing the energy system and allowing all New Yorkers to benefit from renewable energy. Over the next few months, our Here Comes Solar team continue to work with our partners in the NY Shared Renewables Coalition to ensure that this program lives up to its promise to make solar energy a viable option even for even households living paycheck-to-paycheck to drive solutions to climate change and save money at the same time.