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Already Rapidly Spreading Across New York State - Solar to get Ten-Fold Boost

Kit Kennedy

Posted April 22, 2014 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming

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New York is a big state—almost 55,000 square miles of city, river, pasture, suburb, mountaintop, forest and coast. Yet, in the past few years solar power has been spreading like wildfire from one corner to the next. Throughout the state—on factory rooftops, schools, farms, homes, fire stations and stores—you can see solar panels glinting in the sun. They’re producing clean electricity, creating new jobs, and saving consumers money on their energy bills. And they’re doing all that while helping to combat climate change and cut other harmful air pollution that can cause and exacerbate asthma, lung cancer and heart disease.

VulCraft of NY 2.jpgNew York is rising in the solar ranks nationally, thanks to Governor Cuomo's NY-Sun Initiative. A 10-year extension of the program will offer a myriad of benefits, including more solar installations like this one, at VulCraft of New York's factory in rural Chemung County. 

In fact, after years as a solar pipsqueak—left in the dust by states like New Jersey to the south—New York is now rocketing up the solar ranks. By the end of 2013, we were 9th in the nation in total installed solar capacity with over 247 MW of solar power installed —that’s enough electricity to power 40,000 homes. And, better still, we’re now 5th in the nation in solar jobs: with now more than 5,000 good-paying positions in everything from solar installation and maintenance, to business development, sales, manufacturing and component supply.

That’s thanks in large part to incentives supplied by NY-Sun Initiative, a New York state initiative that first took effect in 2012 and is designed grow the state’s solar market, drive down solar costs, and help us reach our full clean-energy potential. Already, the public-private partnership has been an out-of-the-park success, helping install more solar in New York state in its first two years of operation than had been installed in New York in the entire 10 years before. (That’s right, more solar than had been installed in the previous decade.) And you can see this growth all over the state, from the coastline of Long Island, to Buffalo and Western New York, in the Capital region, in the Southern Tier, in all five boroughs of New York City, and beyond.

Here are some snapshots from around the state that show just how far-reaching this growth has been already:

  • Bring On Those Merit Badges, Long Island!: In Bayport, the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County will save $4,500 a year on their energy bills, and use their 72-panel arrays at Camp Edey to teach as many as 40,000 local Girl Scouts about energy and the environment.
  • Helping Preserve Manufacturing Jobs near Buffalo: In Lancaster, just east of Buffalo, the new solar array at the headquarters and manufacturing facility of Sealing Devices, the company will save $25,000 a year on energy, produce 25% of its own electricity, and avoid 200 tons of carbon pollution each year—the equivalent of taking about 40 cars off the road. All of this will help keep good manufacturing jobs here in New York state.  To create this solar project, the company worked with Montante Solar, a Buffalo-based installer of commercial and residential solar energy systems.  
  • Fighting Climate Change Outside of Albany: Fortune 500 company Owens Corning is preventing  about 500 cars-worth of climate change pollution annually, by working with solar energy provider Constellation to install 9,000 solar panels at its manufacturing facility in Bethlehem.
  • “A” For Solar in Saratoga Springs: Skidmore College is installing 2MW of solar energy on their campus, enough to provide 12% of their electricity, and helping to save on their bills. 
  • Solar Powers Steel Manufacturing in the Southern Tier: Steel joist and decking manufacturer VulCraft of New York, part of Nucor Corporation, employs about 300 people in rural Chemung County.  VulCraft installed a 1.6 megawatt solar array in November 2013, which will provide a sixth of its manufacturing energy needs.
  • Resilient, Low-Income Communities in Brooklyn & Queens: In Far Rockaway & Red Hook, low-income families & community centers in neighborhoods hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy are getting free solar, thanks to partnerships between nonprofits and NY-Sun that will cut electricity bills and generate clean energy that won’t further turbocharge our increasingly extreme weather.
  • Parking Lot Power in Brooklyn: The new Whole Foods in Gowanus, Brooklyn, now has enough solar panels in its parking lot to provide about 20% of the store’s electricity needs.  (The system was installed by SunEdison.)

These are just a few examples of how and where solar is taking hold in New York—just the start of what we hope will be the solar revolution in New York.

In fact, New York is poised to increase its solar power capacity more than ten-fold—taking it to a level never before seen in our state. In his 2013 State of the State address, the governor pledged to expand and extend the NY-Sun program. The New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) is delivering on that pledge with a proposal to the New York State Public Service Commission to extend New York Sun for another 10 years. 

All that’s left is for the governor and Public Service Commission to seal the deal and make this expansion official – which is on the agenda for the commission’s meeting this Thursday. Expanding NY-Sun is projected to have significant environmental & economic benefits for the state, including:

  • Building 3,000 MW of solar power, enough reliable clean electricity to power nearly half a million New York homes;
  • Reducing climate change pollution by another 2.3 million tons annually—the equivalent of taking almost 450,000 cars off the road;
  •  Supporting nearly 10,000 local jobs at its height in a given year (or 52,000 total job-years for the duration of the program)
  • Generating a total of over $8.2 billion in local economic activity and output during the course of the program;
  • Energy savings worth hundreds of millions of dollars to New York consumers; and,
  • A more diversified state energy mix, which protects against price spikes.  

Part of NY-Sun’s beauty is the way it’s been designed to drive down solar costs for everybody. For large-scale projects, there’s been a competitive bidding process that gets the state the most bang for its buck, while helping establish a going rate for solar installations across New York. Similarly, NY-Sun recently supported several large-scale collective purchasing projects, which allow residential and commercial customers to take advantage of the economies of scale that come when groups of consumers buy together in bulk. NY-Sun’s incentives are also reducing so-called balance-of-system or “soft” costs, helping to further bring prices down. And through NY-Sun, plans are underway to bring solar to our state’s K-12 schools

An expansion and extension of the successful NY-Sun Initiative holds promise for an even brighter future for solar power all across New York state.

Bring on the sun!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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