... Joule's first opt-out community solar program in New York now active (but will the concept last?) | Solar Builder
 

Joule’s first opt-out community solar program in New York now active (but will the concept last?)

The Villages of Brockport and Lima today activated the first opt-out community choice solar program in the United States. Part of Joule’s Finger Lakes Community Choice program, the groundbreaking offering has been made available to more than 3,800 households and small businesses and will reduce residents’ electricity bills by up to 10% for the next 25 years.

Brockport and Lima have partnered with six local community solar farms, expected to generate a combined 28 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually. As each farm begins to generate power, residents subscribed to that farm will start receiving savings. The solar farms are expected to begin operation in October 2021—all residents will be covered by Spring 2022.

How it works: All eligible residents are automatically enrolled in the program without having to sign a contract, undergo a credit screen, or have solar panels installed on their homes. Should a resident wish to disenroll (opt-out) from the program, they are free to do so at any time with no penalty. This structure enables municipal leaders to expand access to community solar benefits to all their constituents, including the low- to moderate-income (LMI) residents who have historically been unable to benefit from traditional opt-in community solar or community choice electric supply programs due to state regulation and socioeconomic barriers.

Of the 3,800 eligible customers in the Finger Lakes Community Choice opt-out solar program, more than 200 are low-income households and approximately 300 are moderate-income. Going forward, LMI residents will continue to be first in line to receiving solar credits within a municipality.

In addition to the opt-out community choice solar program, Finger Lakes Community Choice also launched a community choice electric supply program, which will provide residents and businesses in Brockport and Lima with 100% renewable energy for the next two years, powered by New York State run-of-river hydropower. As with community solar, customers can opt out or leave the electricity supply program at any time with no penalty.

Together, the opt-out community choice solar and electric supply programs will provide residents with an estimated 48 million kWh of renewable energy, avoiding 34,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. These types of locally led community choice energy programs will be an important pillar in achieving New York’s mandate to reach 70% renewables by 2030, with 35% of the benefits targeting LMI residents.

Regulatory proposal puts future in doubt

“Our mission always has been and continues to rest on empowering municipalities to have a say in the origin of their energy supply. This groundbreaking program will benefit nearly every resident in Brockport and Lima,” said Jessica Stromback, CEO at Joule Assets. “Unfortunately, a pending regulatory proposal, ‘Expanded Solar for All,’ puts the future of similar projects in jeopardy. If passed in the fall, the proposal would grant National Grid a de-facto monopoly over the community solar market, effectively diminishing the power of local municipalities to drive renewable energy growth from the ground up.”

While the pending proposal, submitted jointly by NYSERDA and National Grid, aims to expand community solar access to LMI residents enrolled in HEAP, it excludes approximately 65% of LMI New Yorkers who aren’t enrolled in the program. Opt-out community choice solar programs have the potential to benefit a much larger number of LMI residents.

The public comment period for the E-SFA proposal closed on August 23 with 277 responses submitted in opposition from a wide range of stakeholders, including CCA municipalities, solar developers, and concerned citizens, representing 98% of the total feedback. The Public Service Commission is expected to vote on the proposal later this fall.

“Community choice aggregation has long been our goal and through this partnership with Joule, we finally have a program that will benefit our residents with guaranteed savings and help New York reach its clean energy goals,” added Lima Deputy Mayor John Wadach. “The fact that our residents will be able to reap both financial and environmental benefits without having to take any action makes our efforts worthwhile. We hope that other municipalities will also have their voices heard and can offer similar programs to benefit their residents.”

Joule is the sole program administrator with approval from New York State to integrate community solar and electric supply in a community choice offering. As Joule expands its offering throughout New York State, it is looking to add 250 MW of community distributed generation solar capacity in utility zones north of Westchester County. Of this, 80% is being contracted specifically to serve LMI residents within participating municipalities.

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