Community solar Sustainable Westchester image

Sustainable Westchester is providing a new way for Con Edison customers, including those in Scarsdale, to support renewable energy.

Community solar is an innovative program that allows utility customers to support the generation of solar energy without putting panels on their property or rooftops. Instead, individuals and businesses can subscribe to a solar farm and receive offsets on their electric bills from the energy produced.

The community solar initiative, launched earlier this year by the nonprofit Sustainable Westchester organization, has several facilities available for Con Ed customers, but few people have heard about the program, a deficit Nina Orville, director of solar programs at Mount Kisco-based Sustainable Westchester, is looking to change.

“This is quite a new construct in New York State, and there has been very little opportunity for Con Ed customers to participate up until now,” Orville said.

By subscribing to community solar, Orville said, people in Scarsdale can save about 10% on their Con Ed energy bill and directly support new renewable energy projects in Con Ed service territory.

A solar farm in Con Ed’s utility territory has about 75 subscriptions available at the 10% discount rate, with all slots at the other four facilities in that territory sold out.

“We are very excited we now have community solar available to folks in both NYSEG and Con Ed service areas,” said Orville.

This is how community solar works:

— The solar farm generates solar energy that is sent into the electric grid.

— Subscribers sign an agreement to pay the solar farm a discounted rate for community solar credits.

— The full value of the credits is applied to regular utility bills from Con Ed. The savings reflect the difference between those credits and the discounted rate paid to the solar company.

— The savings vary between 5% to 10%, depending on the solar farm offering the subscription.

— There are no down payments and subscribers can cancel without penalty. In addition, signing up does not cause any disruption in electric service.

The energy generated by solar farms is not directly delivered to the homes or buildings of subscribers.

The electricity in the grid comes from a mix of sources. By subscribing to a solar farm, participants are helping to ensure that a portion of that mix comes from solar energy, a clean and renewable form of energy, while still receiving electricity from their current provider.

Two years ago, Orville subscribed to the first community solar opportunity available in Westchester. To date she said her family has saved $600 on their electric bill.

“It’s a nice opportunity, at no cost, to support local renewable energy while saving money,” she said.

Similarly, Scarsdale residents Michelle Sterling and David Fenigstein, who recently began taking part in this clean energy program, said, “The process was very easy and straightforward from start to finish. We are seeing a cost-savings in our monthly bill and more importantly we are supporting clean energy production in the New York area. As community solar comes out with more solar installations, we would highly recommend that residents participate. It’s truly an all-around with no downside.”

Between 2015 and 2018, Sustainable Westchester ran the Solarize program, helping people install solar arrays on their properties throughout the county. Over that period, 4,000 people expressed interest, but only 600 installed solar through this program.

Former trustee William Stern installed solar panels on his Rural Drive residence in 2012 through Long Island-based SunPower. Since then, Stern claims the equipment has already paid for itself.

“I basically have free electricity and my carbon footprint has been greatly reduced,” Stern said. His installation program gave him a $10,000 credit when the panels were put on his roof, and he realized state and federal tax benefits as well.

Since the trustees voted in March to streamline the process for installing solar panels, Stern said it’s easier now more than ever to choose that option for sustainable energy.

While there were some concerns with the aesthetics, Stern said he looks at houses that use solar panels and is impressed. “It makes me feel like there are residents who are protecting the environment and are making a smart financial decision,” he said.

Orville said that while Sustainable Westchester is pleased that there were hundreds of solar panel installations, “we are also aware that 85% of people interested did not or could not install solar.”

Subscribing to community solar provides “a new way for people to benefit from solar energy,” she said.

Although the number of subscriptions for each community solar farm or installation is limited, Sustainable Westchester is intent on making more available.

As Orville explained, “enrolling in community solar directly drives the development of new solar farms.” She added, “Community solar is a key part of New York State’s commitment to move toward renewable energy while broadening the access to renewable energy.”

Orville encouraged customers of Con Ed to act promptly as subscriptions do fill up. Con Ed customers, including those in apartments and multifamily houses, can sign up through Solarize Westchester at  solarizewestchester.com.

Utility customers are eligible even if participating in Westchester Power Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) or enrolled with an Energy Service Company (ESCO). However, property owners who already have solar panels installed are not eligible to participate.

For more information, call Sustainable Westchester at 242-4725 or email communitysolar@sustainablewestchester.org.

— with reporting by Catherine Ferris

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