5 Reasons for New York Solar Greatness


For more than 5 years, Vote Solar and our partners have tirelessly advocated for big, bold solar policy in New York State. Today, we’re thrilled to see that vision becoming reality! Just this week, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) petitioned state regulators to extend the state’s landmark NY-Sun Initiative through 2023. Governor Cuomo and the State of New York have demonstrated true commitment to making the Empire State a solar powerhouse.

Utica Marsh sunset in upstate New York

Along the way we’ve taken big steps forward, we’ve hit walls, and we’ve even had a toe on the goal line a time or two (or four). But through all the ups and downs, there have been some constants – New Yorkers love solar and want to see more of it in their communities. In the spirit of 5 years of tireless solar campaigning, here are our top 5 reasons for New York’s solar greatness:

1. 3,000 MW of solar from Buffalo to Long Island

Originally launched as a four-year incentive program to scale up the state’s solar industry, Governor Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative quickly proved a great success. In just two years NY-Sun has resulted in 300 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity installed and under development. Now, with NYSERDA’s recent petition, the state is aiming to install ten times that amount of solar by extending NY-Sun through 2023. 3,000 MW is enough solar to power 465,000 New York homes, cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2.3 million tons annually (the equivalent of taking almost 435,000 cars off the road) and create thousands of new quality jobs. Plus the long-term horizon provides invaluable policy certainty so industry and consumers can invest with confidence in the state’s growing solar market.

“Governor Cuomo’s leadership gives more New Yorkers access to affordable clean energy and creates an environment conducive to business growth,” said Edward Fenster, co-CEO of Sunrun, a national residential solar provider serving the state. “His thoughtful approach will help New York continue to develop a robust solar market.”

As part of their improvements to NY-Sun, NYSERDA has proposed a smart new megawatt block design that puts the industry on a predictable glide path to wean off direct incentive programs and maintain healthy growth rates. Similar to the approach taken under the California Solar Initiative, this design would reduce the incentive levels in predictable “steps” based on target MWs of solar capacity. As the solar market matures and achieves new economies of scale in each region of the state, the incentive levels will drop predictably down these steps until reaching zero.

With final approval of the petition from the Public Service Commission, NY-Sun will offer the policy certainty and bold targets needed to truly transform the state’s solar marketplace. We are excited to begin the real work of program implementation for a New York solar revolution.

2.  Net metering expansion

Net metering empowers New Yorkers to use rooftop solar and other small-scale renewables to meet their own electricity needs. Like rollover minutes on a cell phone bill, net metering gives renewable energy customers fair credit on their utility bills for power they put back on the grid for others to use. In anticipation of continued solar growth under NY-Sun, the PSC raised the cap on net metering participation in the state from 1% of system peak load to 3%. That means the state’s utilities are required to offer net metering benefits for three times as much local and reliable clean energy produced by their customers. We’ve worked hard over the years to expand this fundamental solar policy, and we’re excited that the net metering win last year will help keep New York shining.

3.  Streamlined solar permitting

With solar panel prices having dropped fast and far over the past few years, “soft” costs like local permitting represent the most significant opportunity for keeping solar prices trending down. Currently, New York’s 1,600 municipalities set their own permitting requirements for residential solar energy systems. As a result, permitting requirements can vary dramatically city by city. Long waits, high fees, excessive inspections, avoidable paperwork and non-standard practices across different jurisdictions can all add unnecessary costs to what should be a simple, transparent process. In addition to installing more solar, the NY-Sun program is also aiming to make solar more affordable by tackling these permitting soft costs. NYSERDA has collaborated with various partners across the state to develop a Unified Solar Permit, which draws upon best practices in solar permitting. NYSERDA is encouraging New York municipalities to adopt this standardized approach to solar permitting, even offering a small financial incentive to assist in the transition. Permitting red tape helps nobody, and we’re excited to see some cut.

4.  Group solar purchases

Permitting isn’t the only soft-cost New York is tackling. As part of his 2014 State of the State address, Gov. Cuomo announced a new program within NY-Sun called Community Solar NY that will help make solar energy available to all New Yorkers that want it. One approach will be to pool the buying power of groups and communities to reduce the cost and complexity of individual solar purchases. Participants get a trusted third party to help them navigate the process of going solar. Solar companies can lower costs by serving a larger pool of customers at once. And at the end of the day, more New Yorkers will be producing power from the sun. Our own GroupEnergy program has had great success in California and Colorado, and we’re excited to see the same in New York.

5.  Green Bank

First announced by the Governor in 2013, New York is well on its way towards its bold vision for a $1 billion New York Green Bank. The Green Bank is focused on leveraging public dollars to mobilize private sector investment in the state’s clean energy economy. Though the primary objective is to develop financial products that will tackle market gaps and barriers, it is also designed to provide a bridge from direct public incentive programs towards innovative private sector financing options. With its initial capitalization already secured, the Green Bank is working to develop products that will stimulate the state’s solar market even further, including tapping into the next level of credit quality customers, which will open up solar opportunities to an additional 880,000 New York households.

These top 5 reasons for New York’s solar greatness have certainly made the blood, sweat and tears over the years worth every bit. Carrie Cullen Hitt, SEIA’s vice president for state affairs, celebrated the scope of New York’s clean energy vision, saying, “We look forward to working with his administration on the implementation of the next phase of NY-Sun, and on programs such as community solar, the Green Bank and other initiatives.” Another long-time campaign partner, Pierre Bull at NRDC, said, “We commend Gov. Cuomo’s efforts to realize the Empire State’s incredible solar potential and finally turn New York into the real solar powerhouse it deserves to be.” Hear hear! And here’s to more New York solar greatness.


JOIN THE MOVEMENT Sign up for updates from Vote Solar on solar progress and energy justice across the U.S.