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Knowledge and power

November 9, 2016

From time to time I’m asked to give a little talk about how we are going to transition to solar energy and the burgeoning opportunities for solar development in Sullivan County. Invariably, a few listeners’ eyes glaze over as I describe the many relevant factors—from technical breakthroughs to investment options, tax issues and town zoning decisions. But the fact is, we are all going to have to get a lot more knowledgeable about how electricity is produced and delivered and paid for, and actively engaged as consumers and as citizens at many levels of decision making.

Actually, New York State residents have been empowered to make individual choices about energy for quite some time, going back to the 1990s, when New York State decoupled energy production from energy delivery, creating a competitive wholesale market for electricity while retaining our familiar electricity utilities like NYSEG, Central Hudson and Orange & Rockland to provide the delivery system, maintain the lines and handle billing. While not every utility customer elects to exercise this option, it is possible to monitor electricity prices and sources and choose an energy service company (ESCO) that meets your needs and environmental priorities, including choosing to purchase electricity generated by verifiably renewable facilities. There is no limit on how many times customers can change their ESCO.

What’s new now is the possibility of solar energy generation on a community scale, with a group of subscribers buying their electricity from a solar energy system located nearby. Known as Community Distributed Generation (CDG) or shared solar, this type of project makes solar energy available to property owners who can’t install solar energy systems on their own premises. These projects are poised to speed the transition to renewables, and make the system more resilient by distributing electricity generation facilities throughout the grid and reducing the distance electricity must travel to reach our homes, businesses and municipal facilities.