( Photos courtesy New York State Energy Research and Development Authority )
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Before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic hit, John Williams of Williams Farms, Marion, N.Y., looked into converting to solar power.

“It could be a huge savings in electric costs, and we wouldn’t have to install anything,” Williams said he learned from a solar energy representative. 

Williams was a little skeptical that it could be that free and easy to make this change toward more sustainable operations.

“We’d be part of a solar farm. He said it wouldn’t have to cost us anything,” Williams said.

Williams is talking about community solar, those fields of solar panels spanning 20-30 acres, which residents and businesses of all kinds can sign up to use, said Max Joel, program manager of NY-Sun, the solar initiative of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

For residents and smaller businesses, it’s usually a monthly subscription. For larger businesses such as many commercial farms, the solar company will want the business to sign a longer-term contract. 

“In the last year, there’s been more new community solar built than ever, by a long shot,” Joel said. “Most people in the state can take advantage of community solar now.”

The state established a community solar policy in 2015, he said.

The initiative is a major component of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s clean energy and climate agenda. 

One of the goals is to be using 6 gigawatts of distributed solar energy by 2025, according to a news release. By December 2019, New York had reached 2 gigawatts of solar power, one-third of the 2025 goal.

The governor has also called for 70% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030, according to the release.

“Solar is a vital part of New York’s Green New Deal strategy to transition to a clean energy future and reduce emissions to combat one of the most pressing issues of our time — climate change,” Cuomo said in the release. 

“The success of this initiative demonstrates we are on a path to meeting our nation-leading energy goals, and our climate agenda is spurring economic growth and leaving this planet cleaner and greener for generations to come.” 

Addressing Williams’ skepticism, Joel said that community solar companies do indeed pay for the installation and equipment.

“It’s a pretty good deal that doesn’t require cash up front. The solar companies line up their own financing to build the project,” Joel said. “It’s become a major business.”

The state funding program and federal tax credits help the solar companies, he said.

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