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Guest column: Solar is the right way to go for Cayuga County

The roof at Montezuma Winery is covered with solar panels. The Citizen file.

The Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board is pleased to be assisting municipalities across the region to reduce pollution and energy costs. Through an innovative inter-municipal cooperative procurement approach, our Solarize CNY program will help Cayuga County, the City of Auburn and other municipalities to develop their solar energy resources more efficiently by aggregating the collective buying power of our participating organizations.

From December 2011 to December 2017, New York's solar PV market has grown over 1,000 percent, leveraging more than $2.8 billion in private investment and supporting 12,000 jobs across the state. There are now more than 78,000 solar projects installed which produce enough electricity for over 159,000 homes. In addition to these completed projects, there are 1,097 megawatts of solar projects currently under development statewide which could power more than 186,000 homes.

This growth shows that solar is a mature technology that has low operating costs and little operational risk. Solar panels have no moving parts and have been deployed by the hundreds of millions worldwide each year. They come with warranties and guarantees from the manufacturers which state that they will produce at least 80 percent as much electricity after 25 years as they do on day one.

To date, our state's solar market has mostly focused on small systems installed on residential rooftops, with an average 900 residential systems installed per month. The state's community solar policy encourages larger solar projects and has spurred municipalities, schools and non-profit organizations to install projects that lower their own costs while also providing clean power for our local residents. In recent months, the Buffalo City School District, SUNY New Paltz, Hobart and William Smith Colleges have installed large solar arrays. The cities of Troy and Saratoga Springs have installed solar projects on their landfills to lower municipal expenses and the burden on taxpayers.

Most projects completed by municipalities and non-profit organizations have been developed through a form of public-private partnership known as a Power Purchase Agreement. Through this arrangement, solar developers design, build, own, operate and maintain the solar PV systems and sell the electrical output to the customer at a set price. If the solar PV systems does not meet specified targets, then the developer must compensate the customer. PPAs align the interests of developers and customers because if the system does not perform, then the developer does not get paid.

PPA contracts have been authorized in 26 states, Washington DC and Puerto Rico and have been used by thousands of customers nationwide. Major corporations like Apple have announced that they will meet all of their electricity needs through instruments like the PPA being considered by our Solarize CNY participating organizations. Here in Central New York, Onondaga County has installed several large solar arrays through a PPA contract.

Municipalities throughout Central New York have an opportunity to join dozens of others throughout the state that have decided to protect taxpayers from rising and volatile utility prices by developing their solar resources through PPA contracts. Our Solarize CNY participating organizations should be applauded for pursuing such projects in a responsible, deliberate manner.

Chris Carrick May 23, 2018 Updated May 23, 2018

Carrick is Energy Program Manager for the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board

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