But some groups have limited ability to tap into solar. Renters and condo owners usually can't install arrays on their buildings, for example. And not all homeowners have the financial means to buy and install panels; some houses simply do not have roofs or yards with adequate exposure to the sun.
Renewables advocates have long viewed community solar programs as a solution to these problems, but the approach wasn't an option in New York until last year, when the state Senate and Assembly passed legislation to enable it. Now, most Monroe County households have access to one such program.
Sustainable Energy Development announced a community solar program for customers in Rochester Gas and Electric's service area yesterday. The company, which is headquartered in the Town of Ontario, is partnering with Vermont-based Sun Common for the initiative. In simple terms, they're building large arrays and selling the power to consumers at shares ranging from $30 to $300, says Kevin Schulte, SED's chief executive officer. Generally, consumers should expect to pay about 10 percent less than they would on their RG&E bills, he says.
"I think community solar is the next step in the evolution of clean energy," Schulte said during a press conference. The companies announced the community solar program at Long Acre Farm in Macedon, where SED built a 72 kilowatt array that powers the farm's ice cream shop and winery, as well as three family homes.
SED and Sun Common are trying to sign up 300 customers before they begin construction on a new array. This array will have a 1 megawatt capacity, and will be capable of powering around 350 households, says George McConochie, chief operations officer for SED.
More information on the SED project, including sign-up details, is available at gosolarrochester.com
SED expects to bring a separate, 300 kilowatt array online in August, say company officials. It will be able to power about 30 households, and shares in it are already spoken for.
Rocspot, a nonprofit focused on boosting solar installations in City of Rochester neighborhoods, is also working on a community solar effort . Its goal is to have 6 megawatts of solar installed in the city and open to low- and moderate-income households by mid-2017, says Susan Spencer, the organization's president and found. Rocspot's partner in that effort is the Rocky Mountain Institute, a renewable energy think-tank and advocacy group.
Residential solar power has grown rapidly in recent years, fueled largely by improved panel efficiency, decreased equipment and installation costs, and aggressive state and federal tax incentives.