Community Solar Project Creates Clean Energy Accessibility

By HANNAH WALTER – FEBRUARY 22, 2018

The world is going more green, and Binghamton is a prime market for solar energy.

In an information session held at the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator on Tuesday, BlueRock Solar representatives discussed their intention to expand into the Binghamton area and touted the benefits of their subscription-based community solar program, which could help customers save 10 percent on their New York State Electric and Gas Corp. (NYSEG) bill while also helping the environment.

Michael Francis, the general manager of BlueRock Solar, gave a presentation explaining how the system works and the new infrastructure that BlueRock is building in order to expand its reach. The company, which is based in Syracuse and is the newest division of BlueRock Energy, a provider of electricity and natural gas services, builds large solar farms in upstate New York. Customers can purchase a percentage of the energy produced at the farms.

“For each customer that signs up for a certain percentage of the energy that’s produced, they receive credits on their bill for the share of solar power that is produced,” Francis said.

In doing so, the customer lends the solar energy they own to NYSEG, and in return, NYSEG pays back the participant through their energy bill, which is around 10 percent cheaper than the usual amount.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the average cost of solar panel installation is around $18,500. Houses must have a certain type of roof or shading that can support the infrastructure. If one of the panels breaks, it is also the owner’s responsibility to fix or replace it. Because customers are not responsible for maintaining the solar panels in community solar projects, these factors do not impact them in the same way they might if the customer installed their own solar panels.

Southern Tier Solar Works, a local solar energy nonprofit, claims on their website that community solar gives individuals an opportunity to support green energy without directly installing it into one’s house.

“This model allows an entire community to benefit from a solar farm,” the website states. “That includes those who rent, live in a multi-unit building, or live in an area where your roof just doesn’t get enough sun.”

Currently, BlueRock serves over 20,000 customers in five states, but according to Francis, the Binghamton area is an attractive place to recruit customers because it would be one of the larger markets its infrastructure covers.

“Binghamton is one of the areas that has eligible consumers for our project,” Francis said. “Binghamton is actually one of the larger areas of all those counties and customers that can subscribe to our farm. So, we got to get to Binghamton at some point.”

The first solar farm built by BlueRock is in Millport, New York and is 3 1/2 acres large. Its service is at full occupancy, serving 80 customers. BlueRock is currently working to sell energy from its second location in Enfield, New York, which, at 14 acres, is much larger. This farm would be able to service 300 to 400 customers.

According to the Department of Energy, the average U.S. household releases 6.8 metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year. However, solar is emission-free, so the rampant implementation of this energy would likely cause a great reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It could also help decrease pollution and related health problems.

Apalachin resident Brian Harasymczuk found out about the BlueRock meeting on Facebook, and he said he decided to go because he was interested in the opportunity to be both environmentally friendly and save on their bills.

“I am interested in joining community solar,” Harasymczuk said. “It doesn’t seem like there’s really any downside to it, so it probably can’t hurt.”

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