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Groups Say Current Valuation Policy Threatens Community Solar

A number of groups gathered across New York Tuesday to sound off on the state’s policy of valuing solar energy. They’re calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to intervene and give solar projects another option, and stem the tide of community solar projects that they say will be left in the dark.

The press conference for the Hudson Valley region was held in Kingston and hosted by Citizens for Local Power, where Susan Gillespie is board president.

“We want the governor to get back into the business of worrying about solar, making sure that we reach the goal that he helped set in this state,” Gillespie says. “It won’t happen unless we change our policy, and he should make that happen.”

It’s a policy of valuing solar called Value of Distributed Energy Resources, or VDER, which Gillespie refers to as Darth VDER.

“In the immediate future, we would like to see the governor arrange for the Public Service Commission to reintroduce the possibility of net metering for people putting up solar,” says Gillespie. “If they wish to use VDER, this complicated new system that they’ve come up with, that’s fine, but, otherwise, they should have the option of going back to the old system where they knew what they were getting. It was one-for-one exchange, and that will put solar back in business in New York.”

Tom Konrad sits on the Marbletown Environmental Conservation Commission. He says three of the town’s green energy initiatives need community solar, a few 2-3 megawatt solar farms.

“Well, if the projects are uneconomic to build, which is the case under VDER, they won’t get built,” Konrad says.

Or, there’s another option.

“We would have to import the renewable energy from farther away or out of state, and then you lose, you lose electricity along transmission and then you also lose the local economic development benefits,” says Konrad.

Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian says the utility company favors VDER.

“The net metering model is a subsidy paid for by all other non-solar customers. And based on the estimated number and size of projects that are in development and in cue, net metering would’ve added millions of dollars to our customer bills, and much more throughout the entire state,” Maserjian says. “VDER still provides an incentive for solar development but without this higher cost.”

Tom Kacandes is president of Inside Track Solar in Dutchess County.

“We’re asking that projects have the option to continue with net metering past the drop-dead date for residences about a year from now,” Kacandes says. “Larger businesses have already lost their right to net meter and get paid what they pay for electricity when they generate solar electricity.”

He says that drop-dead date is January 1, 2020, for a completed project.

“The problem is that we’re taking small systems and asking them to get paid on the same basis as humungous central station power plants that can be financed in a completely different way and have a completely different ability to come to market. And it’s killing the solar industry,” says Kacandes. “We literally have business owners saying, well wait a minute, I don’t understand what am I going to get paid? Well, it’s a market, it changes hour by hour. It’s not a formulation that works for them. As a result, projects have stopped dead since VDER was implemented March 8 last year.”

A state Public Service Commission spokesman, in an emailed statement says, “New York State is now ranked third nationally for residential and non-residential solar installed in 2018 and moving beyond traditional net energy metering is necessary to satisfy the demands of a transforming energy system and compensate solar project owners for the value their solar systems provide.”

Anthony Sicari owns New York State Solar Farm, a private company.

“We would love to go back to how it was. And I know the utility wants a middle ground in between what it was and what it is now but, right now, this is so one-sided,” says Sicari. “We just need to come up with a middle ground together but, until we get to that spot, go back to the way it was so these projects can go through.”

Central Hudson’s Maserjian:

“VDER is, in fact, a compromise between net metering and no net metering at all,” says Maserjian. “So, it does represent a middle ground.”

The PSC spokesman says New York will continue to work with other state energy and environmental agencies, environmental advocates and the solar industry to improve the state’s approach and respond to the needs of the dynamic solar market and electricity consumers alike.

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