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Coalition Calling On Cuomo To Amend NY Solar Power Goals

WAMC Elizabeth Hill
1 Million Solar Strong Coalition Leaders

Updated June 6, 2018 to include NYSERDA statement.

A new coalition is calling on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to amend solar power goals statewide.

The 1 Million Solar Strong Coalition gathered Wednesday at the capitol in Albany. It’s proposing a goal of powering one million New York homes, including 100,000 low-income households, with solar energy by 2023. The coalition is made up of industry, environmental, justice and community organizations from across the country.  David Gahl is Director of State Affairs Northeast for the Solar Energy Industries Association.  Gahl highlighted the impact of the coalition’s goal.

“If you were to look at a million in New York state, that would be taking the equivalent in terms of greenhouse gases out of New York’s atmosphere and it would have the equivalent of something close to 40,000 cars off of New York roads every year,” says Gahl.

The coalition released two roadmaps outlining policy recommendations in the hopes of generating jobs, reducing and stabilizing utility bills, stimulating local investment, and cutting air pollution.

Governor Cuomo, a Democrat, introduced NY-Sun, a public-private partnership, in 2012. Its aim is to lower solar costs statewide and build 3 gigawatts of solar projects by 2023.  According to a report by The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which oversees NY-Sun, the program has nearly 1.6 gigawatts of solar systems installed and pipeline capacity.

Northeast Senior Director at Vote Solar Sean Garren spearheaded Wednesday’s event.

“That program has been a success so far, but years in solar has continued to drop in prices and the desperate need for leadership in light of the Trump Washington D.C. means it’s time to really literally double down on the NY-Sun goal,” says Garren.

One of the biggest issues the coalition has with the NY-Sun program is a new solar metering system known as VDER, a value of distributed energy resources. The system was established in 2017 to more accurately reflect the societal and environmental benefits of each system, tying compensation to a formula, which includes the system’s location and the time the energy is generated. New Yorkers for Clean Energy’s Outreach Director Elizabeth Broad believes VDER’s complexity and low evaluation is making many solar projects unviable.

“To work VDER must create a stable predictable and simple method for compensation.  Compensation should be fair and account for the disproportionate environmental impacts on low-income communities and communities of color.  VDER must also ensure that the value of customer solar power translates to meaningful savings,” says Broad.

In a statement provided on behalf of the Cuomo Administration NYSERDA states "VDER is an ongoing and evolutionary process and we’re working closely with all stakeholders including developers. Under Governor Cuomo’s NY-Sun program and other renewable energy initiatives, we are driving solar projects that will provide overall benefits to both consumers and the state’s energy system."

NYSERDA reported it has filed an investment plan for a Low-Income Community Solar initiative that will enable approximately 10,000 low-income New Yorkers to participate in community solar subscriptions.

Radina Valova is the Staff Attorney for Pace Energy and Climate Center. Valova says the 1 Million Solar Strong coalition is committed to providing solar power to low-income households. 

“Low-income communities in particularly environmental justice communities are disproportionality impacted by the externalities of the fossil-fired electricity sector in particular air pollution.  Low-income households are also disproportionately impacted by household energy burden that is they pay a higher percentage of their household income towards their electricity bills than non-low-income households,” says Valova.

A statement by NYSERDA reads in part “Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York has already embarked upon the aggressive path advocated by the Coalition. The $1 billion NY-Sun initiative to create a self-sustaining solar industry has already seen a 1,000-percent increase in solar energy since 2011 when there was virtually no solar industry in the state.”

There is more information about solar energy efforts at SolarStrongNY.org.