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Solar Power Is Booming Across New York State

Adam Janos in Green Ideas on February 8, 2018

New York State

Solar Boom
Feb. 8, 2018

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this week that solar power in the state has grown more than tenfold since 2011. That’s a big boost to his comprehensive energy strategy, known as Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), which has the goal of drawing half of the state’s electricity needs from renewable sources by the year 2030.

“Solar is a vital part of this state's clean-energy future and we have experienced unprecedented growth in this new sector," Cuomo said. "We will continue to support the development of solar.”

According to the governor’s office, there are now 78,323 photovoltaic (PV) solar projects statewide being supported by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

But while the industry has flourished in places like Buffalo – where Cuomo made his announcement – growth of the industry in Manhattan’s high-density environment remains modest comparative to its electric usage. According to the governor’s office, Manhattan has seen 3.72 Megawatts of solar installed since 2011 – about the same amount as Oswego, an upstate county one-tenth as populous.

“Surface spaces can be challenging in the city,” concedes David Sandbank, director of NY-Sun, Governor Cuomo’s billion-dollar initiative which leads the development of a sustainable, self-sufficient solar industry in the State. Still, he sees reason to be optimistic. “We’re making the incentives more attractive,” he says. One of those incentives will be for solar rooftop canopies, which are designed to stand nine feet or more feet above building roofs. The canopies will allow co-op and condo boards to maximize panel space that is often limited by rooftop obstructions and restrictions imposed by fire-safety codes. NY-Sun is also adding incentives for solar canopies over parking lots. These incentives may be available by the second quarter of this year, Sandbank says, pending approval from the New York Public Service Commission.

Russell Unger, executive director at the nonprofit Urban Green Council, says he’s heartened by the growth of solar in New York City, pointing to the dramatic proliferation of the technology in the outer boroughs. “There has been massive growth of solar throughout New York City,” Unger says. “The arguments for solar here are as good as anywhere in the state.”

For co-op and condo boards trying to turn some of that sunshine into savings, Unger says that solar panels can never be a “significant contributor” in reducing electricity costs; instead, he urges boards to look into solar thermal panels, a technology that generates hot water. Multi-family buildings can take a much bigger bite out of their hot water load than their electric bill, Unger says.

Others argue that solar projects are worthwhile in and of themselves, even when they don’t supply all of a building’s electricity needs. Noah Ginsburg, director of Solar One’s “Here Comes Solar” program, says that co-ops and condos can see significant savings on their electric bill – enough to recoup the cost of a solar installation within four to seven years. The operating life of a solar array, he says, is approximately 25 years.

“What you see here in the city is they offset the common-area electricity [costs],” Ginsburg says. “The economics of solar are better than ever before because the incentives are still there, but the costs are declining.”

All of which means that New York’s explosive solar growth – in the city and statewide – appears here to stay. “If you have a roof and it gets sun,” Sandbank says, “you can probably get solar.”

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