There was a big event last July that passed by without notice. The NY State Public Service Commission issued a state-wide order allowing community net metering for local power. People will be able to have solar panels at a shared location instead of in their yard or on their roof. The new rules apply to other renewables like wind and small hydo sites. People in Wadhams and St Regis Falls, for example, will be able to buy their power from the small hydro sites in their hamlets. Old dams will become more interesting candidates for restarting small power production.
The big news is it means people living in homes in the woods, on small lots, or living in apartments will be able to participate in solar power deployment.
A summary of the ruling can be found here.
Full text of the ruling can be found here.
Here is my quick summary
Any type of group can be a Project Sponsor except the incumbent power company. It can be a business, a church, a town or non-profit. The Project Sponsor has to build, interconnect and operate the array. It also has to manage information and accounting for credits. Members of the project (a minimum of ten) buy, annually, credits in 1kw units. The credits are applied to their home power bill, valued at the current retail power rate. You can only buy credits up to your total power consumption. You can transfer your membership to others. The maximum size operation is 2MW. I find answers to the question of “How many homes could 2MW serve?” range from 330 to 1000. In any case there are only about 1000 homes in Keene, where a group is contemplating a project. Lots of Adirondack towns have fewer than 1000 homes.
I am not up on the current rules for municipal solar or schools, but there have been changes for them as well. Perhaps municipal needs and school needs can be handled on these sites as well, at least in small towns. Large customers can’t use more than 40% of the array. It is mostly intended for homes.
In the Adirondack Park, prime sites for solar will be old, now capped, town landfills. Each town owns one. They must be kept as open land and have no other use. It is common for solar arrays to be built on old landfills, much like they are built on rooftops. Some of these locations are now transfer stations, so that have power lines in place and are easily reached by existing roads. The landfill ‘caps’ have membranes that need to be replaced every couple of decades, like a roof, and the Project Sponsor could be required to fund and install new cap membranes when needed. In Keene, the old landfill is very close to the NYSEG substation serving the whole town. It is also home to town highway crew operations.
These arrays are set up to fit the contours of the land. On sloped land, as in the case of capped landfills, the panel rows curve to the slope. Curved arrays are less obtrusive and reflective than flat arrays. Glare has been an issue elsewhere (airports) and there are a variety of ways to deal with it so the resulting array isn’t reflective, just flat black. 2.5-5 acres are needed per megawatt. The largest it could get is 10 acres.
Old landfills offer cleared sites already owned by each town which should make the solar power almost the same cost as having panels on your own land. If building the array included the cost of purchasing and clearing 10 acres, that would make it more costly than having panels at home.
Assuming it is not in a hamlet, a landfill array would require an APA permit. Keene’s location is a perfect south facing exposure. It will, of course, be visible, as a black area, from surrounding mountains, an issue that will come up in the permitting process.
There are, of course, lots of details you can read in the links provided above. But this may be a real break through for making solar PV broadly available to Park residents. At the moment, only a lucky few residents have a location and the space needed for panels at home. May 1, 2016 is the official ‘opening day’ for this sort of project but proposals can be filed now.