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NYS Announces Shared Renewables Program!

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.

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Meet Here Comes Solar’s Newest Group on Windsor Place!

Our third group of solar homeowners has now officially launched in Brooklyn! With three contractor selections under our belt, we’ve seen our group solar model produce real savings for our members: each group has secured pricing over 20% cheaper than the average solar installation cost in the borough!

We are excited that our newest group started off as four rowhouse owners on the same block of Windsor Place in the South Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. Even with just four households, the efficiency of synchronized site visits and installations and the greater visibility of four new solar arrays on one block makes the project more attractive to installers and therefore more affordable for our members.

The Windsor Place solar group all came down to the leadership of Garry Golden, a block resident and father of two young boys. As a professional Futurist who writes, speaks, and consults about the driving forces that will shape society and business in the 21st century, Garry sees the rise of distributed generation of renewable energy and says that he “prefers to be on the front end of the market transition” in order to access the deepest savings.

Garry kicked off the solar group by hosting an interest meeting at his home and inviting his neighbors via a Facebook group for the block and individual outreach to homeowners he suspected would be interested. After an initial round of outreach, seven households signed up for free site assessments, in which Here Comes Solar staff measure the shading and usable space on the roof and confirm the suitability of the home’s electrical system. Of those seven households, four signed on to the solar group, one household was found to have insufficient roof space, and another two households plan to go solar in the future.

Our Here Comes Solar team then worked with the group to release an “Opportunity Notice” to our Qualified Installers to bid on the project, and the group received three proposals. We all met up over pizza to select the most favorable bid, and the group reached consensus to select Green Street Solar Power, a new company based in the Bronx who offered great pricing for top-of-the-line SunPower panels with a 25-year warranty.

Once the group members locked down this deal, they asked Green Street if they could bring on new members and the installer agreed that they'd offer the same great group price to anyone in their neighborhood! Another group member, Carl Robichaud, offered to host a second info session, and after a round of outreach by Carl, Garry and their kids, over 20 neighbors showed up for the meeting. We currently have an additional 25 households in the Windsor Place area who have signed up for solar site assessments.

What we love about this group is that it can be replicated in just about any block in NYC! Through the Windsor Place neighbors’ experience, we’ve seen that getting a sizable group discount can be as simple as connecting with two or three of your immediate neighbors and committing to work with the same installer (to get started, fill out our interest form). Once this initial batch of households has shiny new solar panels on the roof, all the members expect that there will be a ripple effect for other neighbors who preferred to first see the technology in action before taking the leap to solar themselves. We expect to see a second and maybe even third wave of interest on the block and surrounding neighborhood within the coming months. And that’s how changing our energy system happens!

UPDATED: 7/29/15

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HCS featured in DNAinfo article about grassroots solar initiatives in NYC!

Yesterday (May 13) reporter Amy Zimmer at DNAinfo wrote a really nice article on grassroots solar initiatives in NYC that features our work and the experiences of some of HCS's first members. Big thanks to Prospect Gowanus Neighbors Adel Sarhan and Ann Schaetzel for providing Ms. Zimmer with such excellent accounts of your experiences with HCS! Since the article was posted yesterday we've gotten a huge response on our interest survey.

It's still early days for HCS, but we are incredibly excited and encouraged by the impact we've been able to have so far. Two groups of wonderful Brooklyn homeowners have now selected local qualified solar installers through our SunBlock platform, and have enjoyed great pricing through our strength in numbers approach. We're very appreciative of DNAinfo for bringing very welcome attention to our early efforts and success.

 

 

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Row house solar: a two minute tour of a solar electric system in Brooklyn

Not only are residential solar electric systems on row houses still relatively rare in New York in 2014, they are also rarely visible since they are typically installed on flat roofs, three or more stories above the street.  So it's understandable that many row house owners might have difficulty envisioning what a solar system on their home might even look like. In this short video, Here Comes Solar technical expert and seasoned solar installer Matt Myshkin gives a two-minute tour of a recently installed solar electric system on a brownstone in Sunset Park.

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