How "Community" Solar in CNY Could Make the Energy More Accessible and Boost the Industry

Mar 19, 2016

More than 200 people from across the state packed a sold-out conference room in Syracuse Friday to learn more about what could be the next significant development in solar energy.  

This solar array, or farm, was completed in 2014 on property owned by Cornell University.
Credit energyandsustainability.fs.cornell.edu

  Community…or shared solar could bring the renewable energy source to those who otherwise don’t have access.

It’s safe to say the effort to bring solar power to Central New Yorkers has seen great success.  Those getting their power from the sun jumped more than 500 percent in the region from 2011 to 2014…and project installations rose 300 percent.   Joe Sliker has seen that firsthand.  He’s president and CEO of Renovus Solar near Ithaca.  Just last year, he added 50 full-time permanent jobs.

"The growth in this industry generally is tremendous," Sliker said.  "Frankly, it's nothing compared to what is coming with community [solar].  Everything has the ability to basically quintuple with community solar because you can serve so many markets that you couldn't serve before.  It opens up 3 to 4 times the number of people, at least."

More than 200 people packed into a conference room for a forum on community solar power.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

Sliker says community solar opens the door to anyone who pays an electric bill.  Until now, 75 to 80 percent of those interested in getting solar for their homes cannot due to physical constraints like roof pitch, orientation, or condition.  sliker says that’s not to mention the initial cost of a system.

"You have this whole list of requirements that people have to currently get through," Sliker said.  "But with community solar, if you have the right model set up, all of that goes away.  It's just a matter of selling power at a reduced cost, and they can just adopt it, pay for it monthly.  It doesn't require a big up-front investment."

Sliker says community solar is a more traditional way of buying power…as people use it.  Shared solar involves a remotely located solar array, which makes it cheaper to build to scale.  Chris Carrick is Energy Program Manager with the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board. 

This plug-in Chevrolet Volt seen outside the forum could be powered by the sun through a community solar project.

"You're talking about potentially 5 acres, 10 acres, 20 acres that could be involved," Carrick said.  "Many municipalities in the region don't yet have zoning codes that address this issue.  That's one thing we're going to be working on."

Carrick says solar arrays are scalable, so they could be as small as a half acre if needed.   Both he and Sliker believe most municipalities will be willing to adopt zoning laws to accommodate the arrays. Carrick says they’re planning to launch a community solar campaign this summer.