A new community solar farm in Saratoga County is now up and running.
With 18,500 panels, the 6.12-megawatt project developed by ForeFront Power in Mechanicville is one of the largest in New York. Alicia Barton, president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, says it produces more than 7 million kilowatt hours – the equivalent of taking some 800 cars off the road.
“With 1,000 potential local subscribers for this project, it’s really a significant advancement for consumers in Saratoga County to access solar energy directly," says Barton.
Barton clarifies those 1,000 customers won’t “directly” use the clean energy produced in their own homes – that energy is put back into the electricity grid. But ForeFront Power Chief Strategy Officer Dan Taylor says their pocketbooks will reap the benefits.
“You basically are paying a bill based off the production of solar energy from that solar farm. But in exchange for paying for that, you’re seeing a credit which is more than what you’re paying for the solar energy on your actual utility bill," Taylor explains. "The net difference between the two is savings, usually anywhere between 5 and 10 percent over what you’re paying on your utility today.”
Both Taylor and Barton say solar energy, and particularly community farms, are on the rise. Earlier this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Green New Deal called for New York to transform 70 percent of its electric sector to renewables by 2030, including 6 gigawatts of solar power by 2025. With the Mechanicville farm, Barton says the state has reached 2 gigawatts of that goal, with solar projects in every county and 351 farms currently in development. Taylor says part of the appeal of community farms is their accessibility.
“A lot of us, obviously, don’t own our homes – we rent apartments. So community solar allows me to solve two problems: space constraints and time constraints," says Taylor. "If I’m not committed to a property for a long time period, or if my property doesn’t have the space for solar panels, I can now get it through community solar.”
NYSERDA paid $2.3 million for the new plant though the state’s NY-Sun initiative. Taylor says it took over a year to find and negotiate for the property, a former dairy farm owned by Thomas and Janice Johnson of Schroon Lake, New York. Now retired, Thomas Johnson says he didn’t know anything about solar power prior to the deal, but was looking for a way to use the land without turning to housing developers.
“The housing, it’s just ugly the way they do it anymore. I figured this would be fine," says Johnson. "It’s forever – when the sun stops, we’re gonna be gone also.”