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The Floodgates Are Opening for Community Solar

Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on June 13, 2018

East New York, Brooklyn

Community Solar

The community solar panels in East New York, Brooklyn (image courtesy of Daroga Power).

June 13, 2018

Not so long ago, community solar – the one form of renewable energy that everyone can afford – was a cutting-edge concept in New York City. Now the floodgates are opening as it spreads across the five boroughs. 

Subscribers to the city’s first community-solar array, in Brooklyn’s East New York, will begin seeing savings on their electricity bills this summer. Daroga Power, the company that owns and installed the 3,000 solar panels on two East New York warehouse roofs, is now pushing into new neighborhoods. “We have three more projects under construction,” says David Matt, president of Daroga Power. “One more in East New York, one in Maspeth, Queens, and one in the Bronx. Hopefully they will be online by September. Over the next three years our goal is to produce 20 megawatts – that’s 3 million square feet of solar panels that would [reduce the electric bills of] about 5,000 customers. We are very bullish.” 

Anika Wistar-Jones is the affordable solar program manager at the nonprofit Solar One, which is working with Daroga Power on its expanding network. “Community solar is the only way to get widespread solar in New York City,” says Wistar-Jones. “It only became legal recently, and as soon as the floodgates open, I think community solar is going to be the largest form of solar energy in the city.” 

The big appeal, for landlords of rental buildings and for co-op and condo boards on tight budgets, is that the building owner doesn’t have to put up any money. Daroga Power or another community-solar developer negotiates a long-term roof lease, then buys and installs the solar panels. “We build it with our capital,” says Matt, “and Con Edison gets all the electricity, which is fed back into the grid. Instead of giving us money, Con Edison gives us a giant credit. We transfer that credit to our customers, and they will then pay us back a portion of that credit.” 

Subscribers to a community-solar project can live anywhere in the five boroughs, regardless of where the solar panels are located. They wind up saving 5 to 10 percent each month on their Con Ed bill. This might not seem significant, but the customer participates in a program that helps protect the environment – at no cost to the consumer or the building owner. And as Myral Chernick, a Manhattan co-op board president who subscribes to the East New York array, puts it: “Every little bit helps.” 

Adds Wistar-Jones: “It’s not a huge saving, but it’s also not a huge commitment. Other companies often demand a 20-year contract while Daroga only has a 12-month contract and you can cancel any time without a penalty. Daroga also doesn’t demand a high credit score, which opens the door for a lot of people who would otherwise not have access to solar. There is just no downside for the consumer.”

The East New York community solar array produces 1.2 megawatts and has 175 subscribers. For perspective, one megawatt is the approximate amount of energy needed to fully power 100 homes. It is equal to 100,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month. The average U.S. residence uses about 911 kWh per month. 

The renewable-energy juggernaut appears to be unstoppable, even with the Trump administration’s tariff on cheap imported solar panels adding about 3 to 5 percent to the cost of most solar installations. Renewable energy sources accounted for almost two-thirds of the net increase in power capacity around the world in 2016, according to a recent study by the International Energy Agency. Solar capacity is projected to double worldwide by 2022, with renewables expected to provide 30 percent of the world’s total power generation.

Every little bit does, indeed, help.

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