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Long Island

LIPA eyes allowing more customers to have access to green energy

A solar farm on DeLalio Sod Farms property

A solar farm on DeLalio Sod Farms property in Shoreham seen Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

LIPA this week will propose rule changes to allow a large segment of customers to access solar power and other green energy alternatives even if their roofs can’t.

Called community net metering, the program is aimed at the hundreds of thousands of customers who live in places where renewables such as solar would otherwise not be viable or available, because of shade, a roof’s orientation or building rules that might prevent them. Condominium complexes, for instance, could offer residents access to a cheaper solar power from arrays located on their grounds, a community center or even a distant location. Other green energy sources would also be eligible.

Under the new rules, which Long Island Power Authority trustees will vote on in March, customers could collectively invest in a portion of systems owned by the group or a developer, then get green energy credits from the systems directly on their bills. The systems can be located just about anywhere on Long Island. PSEG Long Island would administer the program.

Energy developers and installers are expected to offer these community systems. Special net meters would keep track of the energy, and the utility would dispense the credits to shareholders in line with their allotments.

“It’s a game changer,” said Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, a green energy advocate in East Hampton. Raacke estimated that up to 80 percent of LIPA customers can’t access solar for various reasons.

LIPA’s program would match recently implemented state guidelines on so-called community distributed generation net metering. The program will “enable all Long Islanders to have greater access to the benefits of renewable energy,” said Julia Bovey, director of the Department of Public Service’s Long Island office.

LIPA’s rules would require that each main account for community solar have at least 10 “satellite” accounts, or shareholders, with at least 60 percent of that energy earmarked to residential or smaller commercial customers. Projects can’t exceed 2 megawatts. A megawatt of solar powers about 150 homes in New York.

Community systems would be larger than those for individuals, allowing for cost savings. Mike Bailis, vice president of SUNation Solar Systems of Oakdale, said typical costs of between $3.50 to $4 per watt could be cut to $2.75 per watt.

Peyton Boswell, managing director for EnterSolar, a Manhattan solar developer, said the program gives new options to businesses with large roofs that can’t use all the solar power they generate. “With community solar you can go larger and share that surplus with folks in the community,” he said.

The program is just rolling out across the state and even its biggest supporters said there could be challenges. For instance, local municipalities may not be ready to deal with the various forms that community net-metered generators could take.

“The regulations haven’t caught up with the technology,” said Raacke of Renewable Energy Long Island. Most local governments have “nothing on the books that regulate” community power plants. But, he added, progressive towns such as Southampton are “already talking about that issue.”

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