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New York launches first opt-out community solar programme

Two villages in the US state of New York have launched what is claimed to be the country’s first opt-out community solar programme.

Brockport and Lima villages have combined six local community solar farms to launch the Finger Lakes Community Choice programme.

The project will generate 28 million KWh per annum, includes 3,800 households and small businesses, and will begin operation in October 2021.

The aim of the project is to encourage continued implementation of community solar initiatives to increase renewable energy adoption for the provision of affordable energy to consumers and to reduce carbon emissions.

Moreover, community solar projects enable the use of microgrids for secure and resilient power supply during harsh weather conditions such as flooding that can cause disruptions to power supply on main grid networks.

The project is expected to help reduce energy costs for participants by 10% for the next 25 years.

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All eligible residents in Brockport and Lima are automatically enrolled in the programme 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 programme, they will do so any time with no penalty.

The project is expected to help increase access to clean and affordable energy to some low – to moderate-income customers who do not qualify for opt-in community solar projects due to regulation and socioeconomic barriers, according to a statement.

Of the 3,800 customers participating, more than 200 are low-income households and approximately 300 are moderate-income.

Although efforts by the New York State Research and Development Authority and National Grid aim to increase the rollout of community solar projects across the state, they do not include low-income households, according to a statement. For instance, a proposal submitted by the two to expand community solar access to low-income customers enrolled in HEAP excludes approximately 65% of the low-income households who aren’t enrolled in the programme.

Finger Lakes Community Choice also launched a community choice electric supply programme which will provide residents and businesses in Brockport and Lima with 100% hydropower for the next two years. Customers can also opt out or leave the electricity supply programme at any time with no penalty.

Together, the opt-out community choice solar and electric supply programmes 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 programmes are expected to be an important pillar in achieving New York’s mandate to reach 70% renewables by 2030.

Jessica Stromback, CEO at Joule Assets, programme administrator, said: “Our mission always has been and continues to rest on empowering municipalities to have a say in the origin of their energy supply.

“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.”

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