Local residents are seeing a lot of solar farms in New York. If you’re wondering what they’re all for, where they’re coming from, or whether they can save you money, we’ve got answers!
If you’re driving around New York state these days, you might catch a glimpse of something pretty new out the window: solar farms. Whether you’re cruising along route 211 in Orange County, Pool Brook Road in Otsego County, Frog Hollow Road in Ulster County, or dozens of other New York streets, you can spot solar farms producing clean energy all year round. In fact, New York solar farms are actually among the most popular in the nation.
The increase in solar farms across the state opens up questions, like what are all these solar farms in New York for? Who do they benefit? Are they harming the landscape New Yorkers take pride in? Who can build solar farms?
These are all valid questions. The briefest answer is that solar farms are providing cheap, clean energy to local residents who want to support a green economy or just earn some savings every month–and as long as solar farms are sited responsibly, they help their local environment without harming it. They’re the basis of community-shared solar power, the easiest way to go solar.
We’ll answer each question with more information below and give you a sense of how you can take advantage of New York solar farms now that they’re popping up around the state.
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What are all the solar farms in New York for?
Just ten years ago there were few solar farms in New York. You might not even have heard the term “solar farm” at that point. Now, many New Yorkers are seeing or hearing about solar farms somewhat regularly. Why is that?
As any New York native knows, the state has long prided itself on clean, beautiful natural landscapes. Its pristine fields, rolling mountains, and rushing rivers are iconic, offering gorgeous views and outdoor opportunities in the snowy winter, the colorful fall, and the green spring and summer. With that focus on beauty and a healthy environment has come a commitment to a clean economy—one that doesn’t pollute New York’s air or water or alter its climate with greenhouse gases.
A clean economy starts with making sure New York produces and uses renewable energy. With that in mind, the state has already transitioned off most of its coal supply. Now, by State Government order, New York has set a goal of carbon-free electricity by 2040.
In the process, Governor Cuomo estimates that New York’s new Clean Energy Standard will bring over 2,600 jobs to build and operate its solar and wind projects, along with billions of dollars in investment into the state.
Still, there are plenty of ways to reach a clean energy target. Buying credits from huge solar grids built far away, for instance, could technically count. Why is New York targeting smaller, community-level solar farms? In short: New York’s solar farms are specifically built to bring benefits to the communities around them. If you’ve seen a solar farm, chances are you might be able to join the farm and start saving right away!
Local Residents Benefit From Solar Farms
It’s not human nature when we walk or drive by something to assume that it’s ours for the taking. Thank goodness—that’d be a recipe for trespassing and theft.
But when we drive by a cool looking store, we know that we can go in and buy something we like in the future.
Think of local solar farms more like stores. While they’re not quite stores, you can’t just wander onto the property during business hours like you can in a store. Each of the farm’s solar panels is meant to be allotted to a customer, and if you live nearby, that customer could be you. There is one other difference between solar farms and stores: you have to pay to buy an item from a store. Most of the time, solar farms in New York are free to join.
Most solar farms are the base for a local community-shared solar program, meaning local residents can subscribe to a central array of panels, share the farm with their neighbors, avoid paying any installation or maintenance costs (which allows renters to join, too), and save on their bills.
Community-shared solar farms are becoming the popular way in New York of joining together with neighbors for a cleaner, more affordable community. A solar farm is like a badge of honor for many towns and cities since it shows they’re producing their own power and paying less for it. It’s no surprise that folks are starting to see more of them around, with hundreds of new community solar projects in the works across the state.
Keep in mind when looking into solar that not all solar farms offer the same benefits. Some of free to join, while others involve buying a share. Some projects ask you to lock in for long-term contracts, while others offer short-term contracts that you can elect to renew every 1-2 years. Some offer a set discount from your normal utility payments, like 5% or 10%. Others lock in your electricity price at one low, stable rate. Since you’ve got options, always make sure to ask a solar company what makes signing up for their project better than signing up for another.
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How Do New York Solar Farms Get built?
If you’re still wondering where all these solar farms are coming from and how they end up where they do, you’re not the only one.
As mentioned earlier, state policy sets the tone for solar farms. Because New York is working hard to achieve clean energy, organizations like the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) provide incentives for solar developers to build in the state. Local governments also get a say in whether developers can build solar farms in their area.
To get approved to build solar farms in New York, you have to put them in strategic locations to minimize their impact on the local environment. Developers build the vast majority of solar farms on brownfields, fallow farmlands, and former landfills to turn these unused areas into a vehicle for the state’s clean energy future.
Do typical New York residents have a say in whether solar farms get built in their area? Actually, they do!
Developers can’t build solar farms without proven demand. If no customers want to sign up, there won’t be any solar farms. That’s part of what makes solar so beautiful compared to other energy sources, like coal. Customers don’t sign up for coal or natural gas generation, so developers can build these methods out whether their terms are convenient for local New Yorkers or not. Community solar doesn’t work that way. Forcing developers to get subscribers’ approval makes sure that solar farms offer good contracts that appeal to the community.
Classic examples of solar farm contracts include offerings of a 10% discount off your energy or a low fixed energy rate. These vary with the project, but are always designed to save customers money—otherwise, not very many people could (or would) sign up!
Solar Farms: An Untapped Opportunity for Homeowners and Renters Allike
Hopefully, by the end of this article, those solar farms all around the state don’t seem so mysterious. After all, they’re helping New York reach its clean energy goals, stimulate its economy, and save local renters and homeowners money. Still have questions about community solar? Try our FAQ page!