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[This is the inaugural issue of The River Reporter’s “Sustainability” in-paper section. It reflects the newspaper’s editorial mission of engaging the community in transformations of lifestyle that reflect a nurturing and supportive rather than dominating and controlling relationship to our surroundings, both human and natural. Sustainability is not just one thing, like buying renewable energy; it involves a low-carbon life, from the food that we grow, buy and eat to how we transport ourselves, to how much we contribute to an extractive economy. Upcoming sections will explore all these issues and what our neighbors are doing about them.]
If someone offered you the opportunity to save 10% on your electric bill and help to preserve the environment in which you live, wouldn’t you jump at the chance? Now you can do just that by becoming a subscriber of a Community Distributed Generation project. Community Distributed Generation (CDG) is a New York State-approved platform for securing your electricity use from locally sited solar projects, often referred to as community solar.
The community solar solution
The concept of community solar is that developers, sometimes with a stake in the community, using large-scale solar facilities, produce electricity locally in an environmentally friendly manner, similar to the popular farm-to-table concept. The electricity generated from a large-scale, developer-owned solar array is available to electricity customers by subscribing to the project, as long as they are in the same utility load zone. (A utility load zone is a geographic area in which an electric utility is authorized to provide energy.)
What this means is that a large solar field is erected on property suitable for effective solar generation and local residents have the opportunity to subscribe to collectively share the subsequent output of energy. The power from each solar field is available to the local electric customer, so it decreases the need for transportation of the product through new transmission lines. This also adds to grid stability and energy conservation because the local generation reduces the line loss of transmitting energy over long distances.
Community-generated solar provides an advantage to households, homeowners and renters who like the idea of local, solar power, and whose property is not amenable to solar panel placement. It also provides an avenue for people to participate in alternative energy generation who may not have the money to personally invest in it.
This is a concept that is being embraced in Sullivan County by the Office of Sustainable Energy. According to Heather Brown, sustainability coordinator, communitydistributed generation is exciting because it allows all residents in the area served to take advantage of the benefits of solar energy. Brown said that there are several solar developments in the county in various stages; some have been permitted and some are already in the ground.
One project that is nearing completion and is actively looking for subscribers is a newly completed solar field on Baer Farm, which is being developed by Delaware River Solar (DRS), a locally based company. “It is the first and only community-distributed solar project in the county. It will be exciting to see [the concept] mature,” Brown said.
The field will generate 2.7 megawatts of power, enough to serve about 350 to 400 homes and small businesses, and will be connected to the NYSEG electric grid within the next few weeks. It will result in carbon-free energy displacing carbon-producing energy. The plant will reduce carbon emissions by about 5 million pounds annually.
Is that a significant number?
When you drill down to get to the heart of the matter: for each customer served by this plant, the decrease in emissions is, on average, the equivalent of eliminating the polluting effect of driving one gas-powered car for an entire year. (See graphic on page 11 for a more complete illustration of emissions savings).
Customers in NYSEG’s Zone E, which includes all NYSEG customers in Sullivan County, all of Delaware County and areas north and west of those counties are eligible to subscribe to the project. Those Sullivan County residents served by Orange and Rockland are not eligible to subscribe as they are in a different utility load zone.
And while it’s great to think that our energy choices are good for the environment, and support the reliability of the grid, there is an additional benefit to subscribers: a reduction in your electric costs. Over a year, they should equal 90-100% of the usage costs on your NYSEG bill, which include everything but the basic service charge and the tax and surcharge line.
This reduction is achieved through a credit on your monthly NYSEG bill, based on solar production during that month. You will then receive a second bill from DRS for 90% of the solar production credit for that month. In months where production exceeds usage, the credits will carry over to future months. Over the course of a year, the discount will average to approximately 10%.
Another plus is the availability of tracking your own energy impact: after signing on to the process, customers have access to individual data such as the carbon emission reduction that results from their membership. There are no up-front or membership fees, and although a contract is required, it can be cancelled at any time with no fee.
We spoke with two customers of DRS who will soon be reaping the bounty of the Baer Farm solar field. Both expressed satisfaction with their experiences thus far.
Robert Taylor of Jeffersonville said that the company has been good to deal with and that their follow-up through the signing process has been excellent. Solar energy has appealed to him for some time but he shied away after so many vendors didn’t exactly inspire confidence. “This requires no investment in hardware, no contract and no effort.”
Similarly, Harold Tighe of Bethel said that the sign-up process has been very smooth and that he fully expected a good transition as the solar field is connected to the grid. As a biologist-ecologist, he said “It’s the wave of the future.”
Solarize Sullivan, an initiative of Catskill Mountainkeeper funded by NYSERDA through Renewable New York, has been educating the public about and promoting solar options for some time. DRS has become its sole Community Distributed Generation partner; it remains active in nurturing other options such as individual installation as well.
According to DRS representative Cindy Menges, the Baer Farm project has signed up pretty much its full complement of subscribers. But if you’re interested in participating, don’t despair: she says two additional projects are expected to come online on the heels of this one, one also in the Callicoon area and another in Liberty. The company also believes it is near receiving the permitting it would need to start a project in the Monticello area. And about 30 other projects are in various stages of development across New York State. So there should be more opportunities coming up shortly.
For more information on the effect of carbon emission calculations, refer to https://www.epa.gov/energy/ greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator.