Community solar project brings renewable energy to Enfield

Click to listen to the interview.

Syracuse green energy company BlueRock Solar will install thousands of solar panels in Enfield, Ithaca’s neighbor — but they’re bringing something new to solar energy. WICB Correspondents Amanda Chin, Annika Kushner, and contributing reporter Jade Hazzard looked into BlueRock’s project. Listen to the full story above and read the transcript below.

KUSHNER: 6,800 solar panels will generate energy for more than 300 homes and produce around 3 million kilowatt hours per year. That’s what the region-wide company BlueRock Solar will be bringing to Enfield in less than two months. So why install these in Tompkins County?

FRANCIS: “Ithaca’s very green, Ithaca’s very progressive when it comes to renewable energy. And it’s definitely an area where we thought about putting projects if we could make it work. Because we think the appetite for this kind of project is very strong in Tompkins County, and Ithaca proper.”

CHIN: That was Michael Francis, the general manager of BlueRock Solar. This Syracuse-based green energy company is pioneering community solar energy in central New York. But why is solar power so important?

KUSHNER: Solar energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions and doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels emit harmful gasses into the environment, but they also cost more to use because they’re non-renewable. Solar power also does not require the large amount of water that fossil fuels require, and it lessens the impact on the world’s water supply.

CHIN: Community solar is unique in that you don’t have to have solar panels on your property. Instead, residents receive energy from a 13-acre plot of land in Enfield. Unlike traditional solar projects, community members don’t have to worry about where to put panels —or the cost to maintain them.

KUSHNER: John Morris is one of the community members who will receive solar energy from BlueRock. He has had reservations about getting solar panels in the past, but he is now able to take advantage of these community solar panels.

MORRIS: I was never really excited about having solar panels on our roof because we have a shingled roof that’s 15 or 20 years old, and the roof is due to be replaced where the panels would be expired. And that was a massive project, that was always something that held me back. And with the community solar, we didn’t have to worry about it.”

CHIN: Michael talks about the advantages of community solar power over individual installation.

FRANCIS: And so what’s great about community solar is that right now the barriers to entry for people to go solar are kind of high. First of all, you have to be a homeowner. If you live in an apartment, it’s not like you can put solar panels on your apartment. If you live in a house that doesn’t have a solid roof, or there’s shading issues or stuff like that, maybe you don’t have the capital that’s required or the credit score in order to finance solar projects in your residence or business.”

KUSHNER: With community solar, anyone who lives in the general area and pays a New York State Electric & Gas bill can sign up for a membership. In an effort to make the project as accessible as possible, BlueRock follows a “pay as you go” model, where subscribers can sign up for just a one-year contract and save 10 percent on their utility bills.

CHIN: BlueRock Solar is no stranger to the Central New York area. Just last spring, they completed an installation of over 2,000 solar panels across three and a half acres for another community project nearby.

FRANCIS: Our first project that we completed that was in Millport, NY, which is just off of Watkins Glen, was one of the earliest community solar — we believe the first community solar — projects of its kind on New York State whereby we have this system of subscription where no money down, the customer comes in and they’re paying for solar as it’s generated on a monthly basis.

KUSHNER: And BlueRock isn’t the only company that’s trying to make solar energy more accessible with the community approach.

FRANCIS: It’s a pioneering thing for the state of New York. Community solar is in a handful of other states: California, Massachusetts, and Minnesota are three pretty popular states. It’s relatively new to the state of New York.”

CHIN: Overall, Francis believes that community solar should be available in more areas, and that it can positively affect a large number of people.

FRANCIS: I think, you know, in order to reach our state goal of getting 50 percent of our energy from renewable sources, it’s going to take more than people putting solar panels on their individual homes. We’ve got a lot of people who, like I said, don’t own their homes. They live in apartment dwellings or businesses that don’t have. And community solar is just a great way to bring solar to the masses, really.

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