New York’s Blueprint for Solar Growth

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Amid the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Sandy, we’re glad to share some good news from New York . . .

The Empire State is at it again, making moves towards ensuring that solar energy is a significant part of its energy landscape. Having increased the state’s commitment to solar development with the NY-Sun Initiative in early 2012, Governor Cuomo and his team are back to work expanding the legacy of this program.

Last week the Governor’s office released the New York Energy Highway Blueprint – a plan to modernize the State’s energy infrastructure and propel New York’s clean energy economy through collaborative public-private partnerships.

Most important for clean energy supporters, the Blueprint recommends extending the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard well beyond its current expiration date of 2015 and further expanding the NY-Sun Initiative. The plan also notes that providing long-term certainty through multi-year programs will be essential to unleash a growing and transforming solar market – music to our ears as it’s the song we’ve been singing in Albany for the past four years.

Furthermore, the Blueprint wisely recommends that any transmission investments be designed with an eye for facilitating the increased deployment of distributed resources and the dynamic smart grid of tomorrow. It also recommends that any replacement power proposal maximize the role of energy efficiency and clean distributed generation such as solar.

Many of the state’s leading clean energy and environmental organizations agree that the promise of an extended RPS and more robust NY-Sun Initiative will send a clear signal that New York is open for clean energy business. See our Joint Statement of Principles, here. As the Blueprint states, the 2013 RPS review by the Public Service Commission is the right opportunity to lock-in these programs in support of a solar energy future.

In the meantime, developers and customers are busy preparing for the first NY-Sun competitive solar solicitation due November 8th. Solar projects greater than 50 kW from across the state will be competitively selected based upon bids in dollars per kilowatt-hour ($/kWh).

This solicitation also includes two interesting design features that should help project development occur where it will deliver maximum benefits to New Yorkers. The Empire State faces a unique challenge in that the majority of the electricity demand (downstate in New York City) isn’t where there’s lots of obvious space for new solar development (upstate). “Geographic balancing” ensures that solar projects are deployed and delivering benefits throughout the state. Utilities have also identified strategic locations in their service territories where solar generation would provide the greatest benefits to the electric distribution systems. Projects located in these “strategic zones” are eligible for a premium above their competitive bid.

Beyond the Blueprint, there’s plenty of other solar action happening throughout the state. The New York Public Service Commission is working to ensure that foundational policies like net metering will keep New York homes and businesses going solar. New York’s net metering program is a critical component of the state’s growing solar economy. Like roll-over minutes on a cell phone bill, net metering ensures that solar customers get fair credit for the clean energy they deliver to the grid for others to use. But continued access to this key solar program isn’t certain: for each utility service territory, the New York’s net metering statute establishes a minimum threshold for total development of net metering capacity, equal to 1% of each utility’s peak electrical demand in 2005.

Recognizing the importance of the state’s net metering policy, the PSC has taken up consideration of this policy. Prompted in large part Central Hudson Gas and Electric’s suspension and recent reopening of their net metering program by Commission order, the Commission will be reviewing the net metering limitations of the other major utilities to make sure net metering limitations don’t frustrate solar adoption resulting from the NY-Sun and RPS programs.

And finally, the Long Island Power Authority has also been busy of late. In addition to doubling down on its solar Feed-In Tariff (see here for original 50 MW offering) and expanding its Solar Pioneer rebate program for residential and small commercial systems, the LIPA Board has announced that it will provide Solar Pioneer rebates to projects that use the solar leasing model.

There’s no question that New York perceives great promise in a solar energy future and that the state has been very calculated in its decisions to create this reality. With solar energy becoming increasingly cost-effective each day, 2013 will mark an important milestone for establishing the proper foundations on which New York’s solar economy will be built.

In the meantime, our thoughts and sympathies go out to our families, friends and colleagues who are drying out, cleaning up and rebuilding in the wake of the hurricane. There are brighter times ahead.

Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.