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The Power of the Sun for Everyone through Community Solar!

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The Power of the Sun for Everyone
through Community Solar!

Leo Wiegman, Director of Solar Programs,
Sustainable Westchester

What if everyone could have access
to renewable solar energy without installing solar?

Powering our lives through renewable solar energy has become more accessible and affordable than ever before.

In fact, the number of solar installations on homes and businesses is growing rapidly, and by the end of 2021, more than 8,300 homes and businesses in Westchester County will have installed solar systems, chiefly on roofs.
Just over 330,000 households call Westchester County home. Even if rooftop solar on homes in Westchester increased tenfold to 83,000 solar systems, that still leaves over three quarters of our households without direct access to the benefits of solar energy.

Between 2014 and 2018, twenty-two municipalities hosted Sustainable Westchester’s Solarize Westchester campaigns. Over 600 homeowners were able to install solar systems through this Solarize effort, which has been a great success.

However, during these Solarize campaigns, we found that almost 8 out of every 10 homeowners who inquired about solar on their homes were not able to proceed.

A household may not be able to install its own solar panels for many good reasons: The home may have too much shade from trees; The roof’s orientation may not be sufficiently south-facing; The roof size may not be adequately rectangular or large enough; The household may be a condo, co-op or rental unit without access to the roof; Or the household may not wish to borrow needed funds.
But did you know that these same homeowners can still reap the benefits of energy-efficient solar power? That’s where Community Solar comes in!

What is Community Solar?

In a nutshell, Community Solar is a statewide program that allows households to subscribe to their allocated share of a larger solar project (a.k.a. “solar farm”) located elsewhere within their utility’s service territory. Each subscriber earns solar credits each month that saves them money and supports renewable energy efforts.

The solar farm could be on the roof of a large warehouse or office building. It could be on canopies in a large parking lot of a nonprofit. It could be mounted on the ground at an old landfill. In fact, in Westchester County today, we already have these three examples of community solar projects from Yonkers to Ossining and Mount Kisco.

In each case, the site owner-such as a commercial property owner, nonprofit organization, or local government-enters into a lease agreement for that space with a solar project developer. The developer agrees to pay the site owner a lease amount to develop, install and maintain the solar farm at the developer’s expense. After the solar farm gets permission to operate from the local utility, the energy production is divided up among all the participating households or small businesses.

Who benefits?

First, the utility benefits from avoiding the production of that energy itself and the site owner is now earning a lease payment for a roof or other area that was not earning revenue before. Second, the solar developer is getting subscribers who want to benefit from solar and the subscriber benefits from a monthly savings on each bill from the solar credits that their share of the farm has earned. In the end, all parties receive some form of benefit from the development of Community Solar.

Access and equity for all!

Community Solar opens up access to the benefits of solar energy to every household that pays an electric bill. Customers who enroll in Community Solar will see monthly savings for twenty years or longer. With no cost to join or cancel and no solar installation on the subscriber’s property, Community Solar removes the barriers for households who rent or live in multi-family buildings.

How do solar credits work?

New York has put in place strong new policies to decarbonize the energy sector. In fact, New York has mandated that each bill for customers participating in a Community Solar project must produce a savings of at least five percent for the net credits (a.k.a. “solar credits). Some Community Solar projects have been able to offer up to ten percent savings for the solar credits.

Let’s follow the dollars! On a typical monthly electric bill, you get a bill from the utility and pay it. You may be using an energy supply company for the supply of electricity. If so, that supply amount is shown on the bill and added onto the utility’s delivery charges for a total amount.

When you subscribe to Community Solar, the solar farm reports to the utility how many kilowatt-hours of electricity your share produced that month. The utility multiplies that energy amount by each month’s energy rate, which yields a dollar value for those solar kilowatt-hours (that it received from the solar farm grid injection).

Bottom line, your subscription produces a savings on your monthly energy bills for twenty years or longer. And, your subscription to a Community Solar project can be cancelled at any time, without a fee, and costs nothing to join.

New York has also mandated that every utility must do the billing for community solar projects just as they have been doing for energy service companies for many years. Once our local utilities implement this consolidated (or “net credit billing”) in 2021, your solar farm credits and savings will show up on the same monthly electric bill you always get. And you pay for it however you currently pay your electric bill.

Community Energy Programs: collective power

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Community Energy Programs:
collective power

Dan Welsh, Director Westchester Power Program
Jasmine Graham, Manager Westchester Power Program

Unless you are living off-grid and out in the wild (in which case it’s doubtful that you are reading this), you are probably consuming electricity. Electricity connects us all, but for many of us, it’s one of those everyday things that in the background
until it’s time to pay the bill.

However, with Sustainable Westchester’s Westchester Power program, communities participating in our program have decided to be purposeful, rather than passive, about their energy supply. As the pilot program for New York State, we with our participating member municipalities have provided emissions-free electricity to more than one third of Westchester County. This collective approach adds the missing democratic element to this huge piece of our economy and opens up a world of possibilities. By coming together like this, we are leading discussions with state agencies, utility and technology firms to provide savings, program enhancements and environmental benefits to our communities.

One major obstacle environmental programs have had to face are the same hidden biases still predominant in many elements of our social infrastructure. Communities of color, and those living paycheck to paycheck, have been left out in both program design and outreach. When there were benefits to be had, there were often obstacles that made these harder to access. Resources and attention tended to go to already well-resourced communities which exacerbated the experience gap. And perhaps there was also an implicit assumption that these same communities did not seek to be a part of the solution, but we know this is not true.

Suburbanization, redlining, disinvestment, and segregation have allowed wealthier communities to export their environmental problems to low-income areas and communities of color, and we at Sustainable Westchester recognize this. There is a moral imperative to address the environmental and structural racism that created these inequalities. We have built an amazing platform for clean energy, but we must now make sure that our programming is effectively inclusive by bringing opportunities to those who have been most marginalized and left out by the clean energy transition thus far.

The full integration of Community Solar into the Westchester Power program will offer a valuable opportunity to channel available bill discounts to low-income individuals. The program is expected to be in place by the second half of this year and will consult with community groups throughout the process to understand how to effectively share information and deploy this resource to maximize local benefit.

In the longer term, it is our goal to create program structures that give people a stake in newly created renewable energy generation assets. After all, it’s our power bills that ultimately pay for these facilities. That’s why we believe that as a large purchaser we should have the ability to change the rules a little.

The wealthy shouldn’t be the only ones capitalizing from this. Consumers of all income levels should be allowed to build equity in their community, or at least, gain a long-term value of some form.

With emissions-free electricity provided by the Westchester Power community energy program, as energy consumers, municipalities and their residents are helping nourish a clean energy economy. They are sending a message to friends, neighbors, and to other municipalities around New York State who are contemplating following suit that clean, emissions-free electricity is attainable but if we seek to achieve sustainability, we must first come together for a more just and equitable economy. It is only then that can we provide clean-energy solutions to all communities and, ultimately, a message that everyone can be proud of.

What will this structure look like, you ask? Well, frankly, we’re not entirely sure. Developing a well-balanced system is not a simple task, but the good news is that our size and visibility means that we can talk to leading developers and environmentalists who may have some answers. And we want to hear from you too! What do you think such an initiative would look like? We plan to organize brainstorming sessions in the community to get your ideas and opinions.

EV’s Deliver on Performance & Savings!
Driving Toward A Clean Energy Future.

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EV’s Deliver on Performance & Savings!
Driving Toward A Clean Energy Future.

Seth Leitman, Program Director, Clean Transportation Project,
Sustainable Westchester

In the long run, operating an EV is cheaper than a traditional gas guzzler, and there’s the added bonus of reducing your carbon footprint. That being said, there are some costs you’ll need to consider, such as the increase on your electricity bill, the cost of installing the EVSE and the cost to upgrade your circuit breaker.

Here some tips to cut costs and drive for free:

1. According to NYSERDA: Utilities in New York State are promoting the use of electric cars by offering discounts, charging stations and reduced electric rates for charging at off-peak times all in the name of friendly energy. To learn more about this, please visit NYSERDA’s website through this link.

2. When a person owns a home, they look to save on all appliances. Consider your EV an appliance too, so here are ways to save energy from our new and noteworthy Energy Star homes program. Looking to lower your electricity bill? Switch incandescent light bulbs to LEDs and turn off lights and electronics when they’re not in use. Simple green actions at home can reduce your electricity bill by as much as $50 per month. That’s how you begin to see the very real value in purchasing an EV.

In the US, the average cost of electricity is 12 cents per kWh. This means that on average you’ll pay hundreds of dollars per year to charge your vehicle. Compare this to thousands of dollars, which is the average annual cost of gas. You’ll also avoid routine oil changes and reduce your overall maintenance costs. As an added bonus, you can use your own solar or community solar power to lower your energy costs even more!

3. Installing the correct circuit breaker is a necessary step to ensure the operation of your EV Charger. According to, a compelling authority on all things EVs, the average cost of comparable and durable EVSE is between $600 and $700, and will be a one-time purchase. Keep in mind that you will have to consider whether you’ll need professional installation, which will be a standard per hour rate in addition to the breaker box. But all in all, if your current circuit breaker is already rated for at least 40 amps, you can leave it be. If not, you’ll need to upgrade.

Types of Residential EVSE

Basically, there are three types of electric vehicle chargers, level one, level two, and DC fast charging. Level one charging is your standard 120-volt household outlet. You can charge your EV in a standard household outlet, but why would you want to? This method is slow that it will only allow your vehicle to travel up to five miles per hour of charging. Your best bet is to invest in a charger made for electric vehicles.

Most owners choose a level two wall-mounted charger, which provides 240-volts. If you’re not familiar with electrical wiring, you’ll need an electrician to install and mount the device for you. The charger should provide between 10 and 20 miles of travel per hour of charge. If that’s not fast enough for you, there’s always the DC fast charger, which provides an 80 percent charge in roughly thirty minutes.

Overall, purchasing and installing an EVSE will require a small investment; however, the money you’ll save in fuel costs will more than pay for itself in the long run. If you can’t afford an EVSE right now, don’t let that stop you from purchasing an EV. Consider using your electricity outlets to charge your vehicle while you’re saving the funds to install the EVSE; or, you can choose a hybrid vehicle that doesn’t require home charging, but will require stops at the fuel pump from time to time.

One of our program partners BLINK Charging has a home charger available.

If you’re interested, email and he’ll get you a discounted charger for your home.