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Bright idea: Investing in roofless solar

Bright idea: Investing in roofless solar

Capital Region residents have a chance to cut down on their electric bills without slapping solar pa
Bright idea: Investing in roofless solar
A privately owned solar field on Cary Road in Halfmoon takes up half of the lot while EnterSolar's shared solar field is expected to be complete by late summer. (Cady Kuzmich/Gazette Reporter)

Capital Region residents have a chance to cut down on their electric bills without slapping solar panels on their roofs by buying into the state’s first shared renewable solar project based in Halfmoon.

New York-based solar provider EnterSolar announced Thursday the construction of a 1,700 solar panel field at their Cary Road site. New York State Electric & Gas customers living in Washington, Columbia, Saratoga, Essex and Rensselaer counties now have the opportunity to buy into the community solar project by purchasing one of the panels in the Cary Road solar field — a setup that allows locals to reap the economic benefits of solar energy without installing panels on their own homes.

Each panel costs $965 or $1,180 with maintenance and operation costs up front. Tim Braun, co-owner and director of public affairs for the Clean Energy Collective, a Colorado-based group focused on creating community-oriented clean-energy facilities, said those who pay more upfront may see a greater tax benefit. Their panels come with a 20-year warranty, though Braun said “we generally expect them to last much longer — there are lifetime benefits.”

New York State Public Service Commission CEO Audrey Zibelman and New York State Energy and Research Development Authority President and CEO John Rhodes met with local leaders today at EnterSolar’s complex to discuss the partnership among EnterSolar, the Clean Energy Collective and New York State Energy & Gas. Rhodes described the project as “the first-in-the-state shared renewable solar project.”

The project is part of the state’s NY-Sun Program, which allocated $1 billion to ramp up solar infrastructure in the state. The state’s initiative allows the private company EnterSolar to provide credits to the customers who buy into the shared solar project.

Zibelman touted the project for making clean energy affordable and accessible for locals, calling community solar the “democratization of energy.” Zibelman said, “We’re all familiar with the farm-to-table movement. Well, we like to think of this as the farm-to-socket movement.”

Rhodes applauded the partnership and the “triple digit growth [of solar energy] in every region of the state.” According to a press release from EnterSolar and the Clean Energy Collective, solar power installation and development has spiked 575 percent between 2012 and 2015 in New York, making the state home to the fourth-largest solar industry in the nation.

“Fifty years ago, Halfmoon had the first solar town hall. Fifty years later, as we stand here today, Halfmoon is proud to be a partner [in this project,]” said Halfmoon Town Supervisor Kevin Tollisen, referring to the history behind the town’s decades-long nickname, “Solar Town, USA.” He added, “People need to take this and run with it because this is our future.”

The Clean Energy Collective has partnered with the local Affordable Housing Partnership to connect five low-income families in NYSEG’s Capital Region to the community solar field for 20 years.

Susan Cotner, executive director of the Affordable Housing Partnership, said “Helping low-income families save money on their electric bills while supporting local clean energy is a new and valuable tool in our mission to strengthen neighborhoods and help residents achieve financial independence.”

The Clean Energy Collective’s Roofless Solar website features a calculator where residents can submit their ZIP code, their monthly electric bill and their ideal solar offset so they can estimate their total savings before committing to the investment.

According to the calculator, an average home in Halfmoon with an electric bill of $100 a month could save more than $16,000 over the program’s lifetime by committing to getting 50 percent of their energy via a solar source.

Braun said community members can expect to recoup their initial investment between eight and 10 years after they buy in. He also noted that if participants move across town, their bill credits and savings move with them.

“As a homeowner, you aren’t going to jump on the roof to maintain everything,” he said. This, he explained, is one of the benefits of community solar since everyday customers don’t have to worry about repairs and maintenance.

The project, which is expected to be complete late this summer, is estimated to produce 741,230 kilowatt-hours of clean energy in its first year— enough to power 103 average-sized homes. The project developers liken the solar field’s impact on CO2 levels to taking 44 cars off the road.

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