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LI solar group expands reach statewide 

State and local solar groups have worked hard

State and local solar groups have worked hard to push back on a complex state system for paying solar developers for the power they produce.  Credit: Chris Ware

Long Island’s chief solar-industry group is combining forces with a state solar group to give it a bigger voice in Albany.  The group has also expanded its reach to further embrace energy-storage solutions.

The group, formerly known as the Long Island Solar Energy Industries Association, is now the Long Island Solar & Storage Alliance, operating as a subcommittee of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association. 

Tara McDermott, chairwoman of the alliance and a director at EmPower Solar, an Island Park solar contractor, said the move will combine the strengths of the two groups, while allowing the alliance to focus on issues particular to Long Island, which vastly leads the state in solar installations.

“Instead of two separate organizations, we’re now working as one,” she said, pointing to recent successes in working with LIPA to enhance community solar programs that give customers access to cheaper power without panels on their roofs. LIPA also committed to meetings with local industry leaders through the group to work toward the state goal of more green energy.

The alliance is also working with local governments to topple some of the hurdles to getting solar projects permitted, after a recent Citizens Campaign for the Environment study found disparate costs, approval times and bureaucratic impediments at municipalities across the Island.

“For consumers, we are able to focus more on Long Island issues, while NYSEIA can focus on larger, statewide issues,” McDermott said.

Shyam Mehta, executive director of NYSEIA, called the formation of the alliance and its integration into the state group a “significant step forward for solar policy” on Long Island.

“Formally bringing LISSA into the NYSEIA fold will improve coordination between our state-level and regional campaigns and allow NYSEIA to bring the full capacity of its resources to bear on critical Long Island solar policy issues,” he said in a statement.

The alliance will help installers better coordinate and strategize as it faces challenges including the reduction of the federal tax credit to help defray the costs of systems. Once a 30% slice off the cost of a typical installation of $30,000, the federal tax credit dropped to 26% this year, and will drop 4% in each of the next two years before disappearing entirely by 2023.

State and local solar groups have worked hard to push back on a complex state system for paying solar developers for the power they produce. Called Value of Distributed Energy Resources (VDER), the system replaced a simpler mechanism of straight payments per kilowatt-hour called net metering with one that examines a range of factors for power compensation. Installers say it has hurt commercial installations, and LIPA and the state have made changes to help clear roadblocks.

The solar groups say industry growth on Long Island has slowed since the expiration of residential rebates in 2016, along with the introduction of VDER “and a grid that is nearing capacity at many LIPA substations” to accept additional, disparately located green-energy sources such as solar.  

“These LISSA priority issues threaten to make New York State’s decarbonization and climate goals more difficult to achieve,” the groups said in a statement, calling for the state to up its solar goals to 10,000 megawatts for Long Island in the next decade to reach a carbon-free energy grid by 2040.

There are 467 megawatts of distributed solar across Long Island, including around 50,000 Long Island rooftops with solar panels.   

The alliance will also work to make energy storage a bigger part of the local industry, by selling more batteries to store power when new systems are installed. McDermott said the current attach rate of solar systems with batteries is from 2% to 5%; the group has a goal of making it 10% to 20%.

Cost of the batteries are defrayed by the federal tax credit, and PSEG Long Island offers a rebate that helps further defray the costs when solar panels are bought along with them, McDermott said.

Home battery systems can cost from several thousand dollars to upward of $10,000 or more depending on the capacity of units and installation costs.

Battery storage units could displace the need for residential gas-fired generators during outages, and help customers save money when combined with special time-of-use rates that shift power use to off-peak times.

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