New York Reaches 1 GW Community Solar Milestone

By John Engel 

New York State leaders celebrated the milestone of 1 GW of community solar installed, the most of any state in the U.S. (Photo courtesy: NYSERDA)

New York has reached a milestone of 1 GW of installed community solar capacity, more than any other state.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said that community solar development has accelerated the state’s goal of generating 70% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Hochul wants to reach 10 GW of solar over the same period.

Community solar now generates enough electricity to power 209,000 homes.

Community solar accounted for 70% of New York’s overall solar additions in 2021, the governor’s office said. The state has a community solar pipeline of 708 projects totaling 2,300 MW.

Established in 2011, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s $1.8 billion NY-Sun program aims to scale solar while driving down costs. The program has directed over $200 million to low-to-moderate-income households as part of its Solar Energy Equity Framework.

Last year, the Biden administration set a goal of powering 5 million American homes with community solar projects by 2025– an ambition that would require 700% growth of current capacity.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates a total of 3,253 MW-AC community solar capacity was installed in the U.S. by the end of 2020 — enough to power 600,000 homes. The cumulative installed capacity of community solar has grown since 2010, doubling on average year-over-year.

“Community solar is one of the most powerful tools we have to provide affordable solar energy to all American households, regardless of whether they own a home or have a roof suitable for solar panels,” Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement. 

Growing community solar depends largely on policy expansion. Otherwise, community solar-type projects receive wholesale rate compensation, making them economically unviable in most cases.

Now, at least 19 states and D.C. have established policies and programs to support community solar adoption, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association trade group.

The outlook for community solar is improving, according to market analysts. Energy research consultancy Wood-Mackenzie in February raised its 5-year forecast for community solar capacity in the U.S. to 4.5 GW, up by 9% from its earlier outlooks. The revision was due to expanded community solar programs in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, as well as new programs in Delaware and New Mexico.

“Policymakers are heavily influenced by utilities, and I think utilities are more comfortable with community solar (than a distributed residential model) because it’s easier to plan,” said Scott Wiater, CEO of community solar developer Standard Solar. He said that developers favor it because they don’t have to worry about the offtakers. “They just have to worry about getting site control with good interconnection and they have a solar project.”

The interconnection process has become increasingly burdensome, costly, and time-consuming, Wiater added.

He acknowledged that utilities have an obligation to study how community solar projects impact the grid and their customers. But without an improved interconnection process, national community solar capacity targets face an uphill battle.

“We are way behind coming close to (the Biden administration’s) goals unless we start acting super aggressively now,” he said. “We have to figure out how to do everything quicker if we’re going to meet any of these climate change goals that have been put in front of us.”

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