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Officials Celebrate Saratoga County "Farm To Socket" Solar Project

WAMC News Intern Paulina Phelps

The Halfmoon Community Solar Project, expected to be completed by late summer, will feature more than 1,700 panels and will generate enough electricity to power about 103 average-sized homes. The solar panels will offset enough CO2 to equal taking 44 cars off the road. But it’s not necessarily the size or scope of the project that is unique.

John Rhodes, President and CEO of the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority, says the project will provide access to solar power for customers who would be left out in the traditional rooftop model.

“This is a beginning. We like to talk about first of a kind projects. First of a kind is really cool because it means there are more to follow,” said Rhodes.

The concept of shared solar allows customers who live in multiple-unit buildings or those without the proper space to install their own panels to buy individual panels in the array. They would then get money off their utility bill based on the electricity generated at the site, as if the panels were on their own roof.

Audrey Zibelman is CEO of the New York State Department of Public Service.

“These are residents who may own homes, they may live in apartments, they may be renters, they may be low-income. And what it does is it starts to make solar energy not only affordable, but also accessible,” said Zibelman.

Zibelman says community solar is another way to advance what she calls the “democratization of energy.”

“One of the things we like to talk about is that we’re all familiar with the farm-to-table movement. We like to think of this as the farm-to-socket movement.”

As part of making the community solar project accessible to low-income families, 10 kilowatts of capacity have been set aside for up to five low-income families in the Capital Region each year for 20 years.

Susan Cotner, Executive Director of the Affordable Housing Partnership, said providing low-cost energy is important to all families.

“And when you got a $150-a-month energy bill, you know that that’s having a big impact on housing affordability, right? A mortgage payment, rent, that’s not the only piece of what makes housing work for families. So, again, it’s really critically important that we do as much as we possibly can to make energy savings a high priority in our state.”

Other partners in New York’s first shared renewable solar project include developers EnterSolar and Clean Energy Collective.

CEC's Tom Sweeney said many players must work together to get projects like the Halfmoon Community Solar Project built, hooked up, and producing power.

“And so inside New York State over the next few years, there are going to be substantial opportunities for the financial community to participate either in the financing of the construction of projects, or in providing financing to residential, commercial or government customers that ultimately decide to participate in the program,” said Sweeney.

The project is partially funded as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $1 billion NY-Sun initiative. New York is hoping to generate 50 percent of its power through renewable sources by 2030.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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