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Community solar gaining popularity

Sat, Jan 26th 2019 07:00 am
Shown in bold are available opportunities for property owners to hook onto electrical feeder lines in the county's northern areas.
Shown in bold are available opportunities for property owners to hook onto electrical feeder lines in the county's northern areas.

New alternative energy source part of ongoing efforts to improve distribution networks

State officials, independent providers tout benefits of greener, cheaper energy

By Terry Duffy

Editor-in-Chief

Community solar continues to make inroads throughout New York state, including in Buffalo-Niagara.

A project of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, community solar is described as, “an array of panels installed in a sunny location. Anyone in the area can access the clean energy produced by these solar panels and get credits toward their electricity bills,” according to its website (www.nyserda.ny.gov).

In past issues of The Sentinel, readers have learned two significant solar projects won approval from the Lewiston Town Board. The municipality recently joined a growing list of communities and created its own solar law. This enables interested residents to install a utility-scale solar energy system on private property, and contribute to the electrical grid, or sign on as a participant and derive the benefits.

Many residents throughout the area have been receiving solicitations of late from a variety of independent providers that seem to be cropping up everywhere, including this one from Arcadia Power of Washington, D.C., which states, “You’re eligible to automatically save on your National Grid bill with Arcadia Power’s community solar program for New York residents. Simply connect your National Grid account to join a local community solar farm in your area, and start getting guaranteed savings on your monthly energy bill.

“It’s completely free to participate, there’s nothing to install on your property, and it’s available to renters and homeowners. There are limited spots available so lock in your spot today.”

So what’s behind this movement toward a push for producing greener, cheaper energy in this area – particularly with the Robert Moses Niagara Power Project (the fourth-largest hydropower project of its type in the U.S.) right in our backyard? NYCERDA touts solar as being a key component of what it calls the state’s Clean Energy Fund – a project spearheaded by the governor’s office.

“The CEF supports Gov. Cuomo’s aggressive Clean Energy Standard commitment that requires 50 percent of New York state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2030, while reshaping the state’s energy efficiency, clean energy, and energy innovation programs. It reduces the cost of clean energy by accelerating the adoption of energy efficiency to reduce load while increasing renewable energy to meet demand.

“The CEF supports Gov. Cuomo’s goals to make 500,000 homes and 20,000 businesses more energy efficient, and bring solar to 150,000 new homes and businesses by 2020.”

NYSERDA representative Houtan Moaveni, a state-distributed generation interconnection ombudsman for NYCERDA and senior adviser to its president, said this represents the state’s latest effort to address a decades-old problem of adequately supplying power needs.

Anyone remember the great blackouts of past decades?

Moaveni said events such as these, which oftentimes struck major metropolitan areas, are credited with spurring power generation providers to move more aggressively toward creating greater alternative energy sources. Back in the mid-’60s, a major breakdown occurred in electrical power distribution from key energy sources serving the entire eastern U. S. seaboard – namely from the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston and from sources in eastern Canada. The result was tens of millions being plunged into darkness from the New England states, including New York, down almost to Florida. Similar experiences occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, which spurred energy suppliers to seek greater efficiency on the nation’s grid networks.

The result was a push for a much-improved grid distribution network – better transmission lines, greater sources of power. That’s where community solar comes in.

Moaveni, who recently provided a detailed presentation to officials representing the towns of Cambria, Porter and Wilson, said the new push toward greener energy – in this case solar (there’s also wind power) – is the state’s answer to that age-old problem of a completely outdated grid.

“The current situation is an outdated grid and congested transmission facilities,” Moaveni said.

He said the state’s latest effort seeks to “bring the power (source) closer to the load.”

This is being done by means of what he called a “central state-based power system,” of which solar and also wind energy are viewed as key components.

It’s a concept of what Moaveni called “community choice aggregation” – that being negotiating and creating a cheaper alternative – “supply side” power. “(Here) the utilities do not own the power, they produce it,” he said.

Moaveni explained residents in certain areas are provided the opportunity of tapping into the grid – either as a contributor with their own utility grade system or as a benefactor that provides for lower electrical bills. It’s all dependent on the availability of feeder lines in relation to an established transmission line network or substation.

“Will towns become overtaken by solar? No,” Moaveni said, adding that, for a project to move forward, it has to be attractive to the distribution network.

For example, along certain areas of Lake Road in the Town of Porter, there exists roughly 2.9 megawatts availability out of 3.8 megawatts of what’s called “max 3-phase hosting capacity” in the distribution feeder for residents to tie in. This is accomplished by means of the property owner creating a utility-scale solar energy system. For those who would want to merely participate in the network, there’s opportunity to sign on to enjoy lower electrical bills.

Both are available to the property owner or resident via companies such as Arcadia Power, mentioned earlier. A local participant, Borrego Solar Systems Inc., is a nationwide commercial solar company that signed on to create a 5.3-megawatt system of 17.1 acres on 40 acres of Swann Road property owned by Town of Lewiston Building and Zoning Inspector Tim Masters. Still another company is OYA Solar of Toronto, which develops, constructs, integrates and finances solar photovoltaic projects in North America. OYA Solar is the firm behind a 29-acre utility-scale solar system on nearly 73 acres of land owned by Donald and Janice Laurie at 2643 Moore Road. The project, to be constructed and managed on a lease arrangement by OYA Solar Inc. will generate 5 megawatts of power.

When complete, both will ultimately become plugged into a constantly growing electrical grid system to serve thousands.

Discussing the various NYCERDA options available to communities, Moaveni said that, for solar projects with a capacity under 25 megawatts, the issuing/managing authority rests with the municipality in terms of creating its own solar law.

In this arrangement, he said NYCERDA has three tiers that comprise the less-than-25 megawatts solar energy system. These include: tier 1 – which are smaller, roof-mounted and building-integrated solar energy systems; tier 2 – described as ground-mounted systems with a capacity of up to 25 kilowatts that generate electricity of onsite or offsite consumption; and tier 3 – which are larger-scale systems producing 25 megawatts or more, created under authorization by the state’s Board of Electric Generating Siting and the Environment.

Moaveni described the tier 3 systems as being large-scale, pointing to the 900-acre system proposed for the Town of Cambria. He said such ground-mounted systems are considered attractive to municipalities with brownfields or landfills, noting such operations could generate thousands per acre in realized profit.

Moaveni closed his discussion by telling the government officials gathered that the economic potentials are there with solar, but that the decisions on creating laws, and the permitting and managing of such utility-scale solar systems in their localities, rests with them.

“Solar and wind are (among) the fastest growing industries. And they can be used to enhance economic opportunities for all,” he said.

For more information on community solar, visit www.nyserda.ny.gov.

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