Outlook 2013: Homes, businesses can save green with solar energy
The Saratoga Clay Arts Center on Hayes Road in Schuylerville is getting a little help from the sun to reduce the building’s energy costs and run the center’s potter’s wheels.
Jill Kovachick, a highly regarded ceramicist who taught in Skidmore College’s adult education program for many years, opened the arts center in June 2011. She bought a small, empty former nursing home that had gone into foreclosure.
“We totally redid the whole thing,” Kovachick said.
She said one of the reasons she founded the Clay Arts Center was that Skidmore College ended its adult education ceramics program, so she and other ceramics artists in the area needed a place to continue to work and conduct classes. About 30 of Kovachick’s students and fellow artists are now working at the Schuylerville location.
“They rent space and do their work [at the Clay Arts Center],” she said.
One of the improvements at the center came in October, when Monolith Solar Associates LLC of Rensselaer installed solar panels on top of the building. Kovachick said the panels have reduced the building’s energy costs by a third.
“It keeps the costs down. We wanted to keep things green,” she said. “Why not use the sun?”
Kovachick said the solar panels provide power for the potter’s wheels and other uses but not all the energy needs of the center.
Tyler Justin, field operations director for Monolith Solar Associates LLC, said the installation of the solar panels was a power purchase agreement.
“They don’t pay anything up front,” Justin said. “We use their rooftop to produce power. We sell them back the power for 25 percent less than the going rate for electricity,” he said.
The agreement provides the Saratoga Clay Arts Center with a 25 percent reduction in its National Grid electric bills.
Justin described the solar panels on the center as a relatively small commercial system. The more popular solar installation for Monolith is a larger, 50,000-watt array.
“That provides a significant amount of power,” he said.
For example, the Northside firehouse in Waterford fills 100 percent of its energy needs from a 50,000-watt system on that building.
Monolith has also installed solar power systems at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon firehouse, the Averill Park firehouse, and the West Crescent firehouse in Clifton Park.
Monolith Solar Associates was founded in 2009 by Mark Fobare and Steven Erby. The business started with only five people in Erby’s house. As the business started to grow, it moved into a previously abandoned building near the Amtrak railroad station in Rensselaer.
Monolith currently has 35 employees and continues to grow.
“Things are looking really great here,” said Justin. “A lot of our systems provide all the power [for a given commercial customer]. It’s an incredibly easy, easy process. We get to grow our business and save people money along the way.”
Justin said the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has been extremely helpful in developing and coordinating solar energy projects in the state.
“We work closely with NYSERDA,” he said, adding that it has provided a “stable sustainable solar market” in the state.
“It’s predictable and easy to work with,” he said about the state’s solar guidelines.
Justin said NYSERDA provides funding to support solar energy in the state, including solar installations up to 50,000 watts. He said Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also provided “great support” for solar energy projects in the state through the New York-Sun initiative.
Cuomo announced in August that $107 million is available through the initiative for a major solar power incentive program that will increase the amount of electricity generated by photovoltaic systems throughout New York.
In January, Cuomo announced an expansion of the NY-Sun program for solar energy, committing an additional $150 million over the next 10 years to the program.
The NY-Sun Competitive PV Program, which is being administered by NYSERDA, seeks proposals for large (more than 50 kilowatts) PV systems to be installed at businesses, factories, municipal buildings and other larger commercial and industrial customers. A new website (http://ny-sun.ny.gov/) has been launched to provide a one-stop shop for applicants seeking funding through NY-Sun, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
“The NY-Sun initiative has helped establish New York state as a leader in solar power, and these investments in photovoltaic systems will allow businesses and municipalities to put in place green, cost-effective electric generating installations,” Cuomo said in the statement released in August.
“In addition, these investments will further drive job growth in the state’s clean power industry, and create economic development in communities across New York. I encourage all businesses and municipalities eligible for these grants to apply.”
This phase of the program is available through the end of 2013 for PV projects in New York City and upstate New York at eligible customer sites. This is an expansion — both in geographical territory and in funding — of a 2-year-old program that previously focused on large PV systems for the commercial, industrial and municipal sectors exclusively in New York City, Westchester County and the lower Hudson Valley.
“For the last two years, NYSERDA funding has helped spark interest in a wide variety of large solar-power projects in some of the most densely populated areas of the state,” said Francis J. Murray Jr., president and CEO of NYSERDA, in a statement released by the governor’s office. “Gov. Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative will expand and stimulate the growth and deployment of solar technology while at the same time reducing demand on the grid throughout the state.”
In addition to the competitive PV program, NYSERDA has also expanded its smaller-scale solar PV program (less than 50 kilowatts) under the NY-Sun initiative. This is the program Monolith Solar Associates is using.
Monthly funding under this program increased from $2 million to $3.5 million for 2012 and will continue at $3.1 million per month in 2013. This standard offer, non-competitive open enrollment program provides funding for systems up to 7 kilowatts for residential sites and up to 50 kilowatts for non-residential sites.
Cuomo said he launched the NY-Sun initiative to double the amount of customer-sited solar power installed annually in New York and quadruple that amount by 2013, benchmarked against the amount installed during 2011.
To read all the stories from the 2013 Outlook special report, click here.