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LIPA to spotlight new solar programs to boost statewide goals

A community solar project atop Long Island Cares

A community solar project atop Long Island Cares food bank in Hauppauge offers discount power to low-income families. Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

LIPA on Thursday will put the spotlight on a series of initiatives aimed at keeping Long Island’s bustling solar industry operating in the green.

The authority will boost financial incentives for a popular program called community solar, introduce a new program called Solar Communities with discounts for low- and moderate-income ratepayers and announce a contract for a new solar farm in Calverton that will power 4,200 homes.

After months of criticism by local solar developers and industry groups, the authority plans to up the ante for a program called community solar which allows developers to sell power to distantly located subscribers at cheaper prices, including low-income ratepayers or renters who can’t otherwise get solar. The utility’s aim is to keep community solar’s compensation method viable after moving to a less generous statewide compensation scheme on Jan. 1.  

Under the new plan, LIPA will increase the “community credit” for the program to 5 cents a kilowatt hour, from a previous 2.5 cents, and offer a new “community adder” rebate of $200 per kilowatt for projects under 750 kilowatts. For a 500-kilowatt project, the rebate amounts to $100,000.

Both will help make the projects more financially viable for developers, and more attractive for community solar subscribers, who can pay up to 25 percent less for power than typical LIPA ratepayers. A recent community solar project launched in Hauppauge by the food bank Long Island Cares offers power to low-income subscribers for around 16 cents a kilowatt-hour, compared to around 21 cents for typical LIPA ratepayers.

LIPA implemented the new statewide compensation scheme called Value of Distributed Energy despite pleas from developers to delay or alter the program. VDER’s complex compensation scheme has been widely criticized as too complex, unpredictable and less generous than the former standard.

Local companies on Tuesday said they welcomed the change.

“Consistent, reliable and financially responsible programs are the key to successful solar growth and adoption of energy efficiencies on Long Island,” and the LIPA “modifications announced today will assist in that growth,” said Scott Maskin, chief executive of SUNation Solar Systems, Long Island’s largest installer of home and commercial systems.

LIPA on Thursday will also release details of a second program called Solar Communities, which will auction contracts for 25 megawatts of solar across Long Island, with the first 20 megawatts dedicated to low- and moderate-income customers. LIPA said it plans to more than double Long Island’s community solar market and provide energy discounts to more than 3,000 low- and moderate-income customers in coming years.

LIPA also is expected to approve a power purchase agreement for the Calverton solar array, a joint venture between National Grid Ventures and NextEnergy Resources, which have existing partnerships in battery storage. Average ratepayers will see their bills increase around 16 cents a month when the project comes online in December, LIPA said.

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