Johannes Kornelius

A major new solar farm project got underway last week with the appointment of a Norwich construction firm to help build one of the largest community solar projects in New York State.

The project, to be built on land owned by the Evans family in Norwich, New York, will produce enough electricity for about 2000 average sized homes. All NYSEG customers will be eligible to join the farm including renters and households that would be unable to install rooftop solar panels.

“The Town of Norwich has shown amazing leadership in New York State’s effort to replace all fossil fuel electricity generation by 2040,” said Jeffrey Mayer, CEO of Solar Farms NY. “Thanks to the Evans family, enough solar panels will be planted to provide the community and its households decades of clean, renewable energy to one of the country’s most beautiful regions,” he added.

Mayer said that the solar farm would be built on about 79 acres located on 5050 State Highway 23 in Chenango County.

According to John Bamman, Project Manager for Solar Farms New York, over 52,569 panels will be installed over the next six to nine months. When connected to the NYSEG grid, the panels will produce about 20 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

Mayer explained that under New York State rules the solar electricity produced by the Norwich farm will go directly into the NYSEG grid. “All NYSEG customers benefit from more renewable energy production,” he said, “but only our members will enjoy guaranteed savings on their monthly bills.”

Burrell’s Excavating Inc. has been hired as the civil engineering company that will prepare the site for construction. Burrell’s is a family-owned business that is responsible for many street and road reconstruction projects in the region for both commercial and residential customers, using its high-tech equipment in challenging terrain for earth moving, excavation, and road surfacing.

KMC Sand & Gravel, a division of Burrell’s, will be supplying gravel and stone material required to prepare access roads and drainage channels for the construction site.

According to Mayer, the community solar project will be built on four contiguous farms owned by members of the Evans Family. The first farm has already been sold out with NYSEG customers who live in the Norwich area.

“We expect the farms to be completed in early 2020, less than a year from now, at which time they will begin to deliver valuable savings to our members,” Mayer added.

Under New York’s community solar program, solar farms like the Norwich farm sell their electricity to NYSEG which will in turn put credits on customer bills. Instead of paying the utility for their electricity, customers then pay Solar Farms New York for their electricity.

Solar Farms New York will bill customers 95% of the value of the credits they receive from NYSEG, resulting in a 5% savings on their solar credits.

The community solar project will also benefit local governmental entities in the form of payments in lieu of property taxes. Approximately $1,415,000 will be paid to the Town of Norwich, Chenango County, over the life of the project.

Households that wish to join the solar farms can sign up online at SolarFarmsNY.com or by calling the company at its Albany number, 833 877 7652.

Community solar farms are not retail electricity supply and Solar Farms New York is not an ESCO, Mayer explained. “Many retail supply contracts have been criticized for being a ‘bait and switch,’” he said. “With our solar farms you will never pay anything until after you have received your NYSEG credits on your monthly bill.”

In New York, solar farm members can receive savings from a solar farm and at the same time continue to purchase their electricity supply from third party ESCOs or from NYSEG, at their option.

“Some of our members buy their electricity from NYSEG and others from third party suppliers. Community solar does not replace electricity supply contracts but rather provides guaranteed savings no matter who is the supplier – and we do it all with 100% New York sunshine.”

The Norwich community solar farms is one of 40 different projects that Solar Farms NY is building in NYSEG’s territory, Mayer said.

“We have already signed up over 3,000 households including some 400 for the Norwich project alone,” he said. “We hope to sell out by the end of the summer at which time we will begin to put customers on our waiting list.”

Community solar farms are a rapidly expanding around the country, supported by utilities which have an easier time incorporating solar electricity into their grid when it is produced at a single location and not on hundreds of rooftops.

Members of community solar farms pay nothing to join, in contrast to the cost of building rooftop solar, and their contracts are month-to-month in contrast to the 15-20 year commitment that comes with rooftop solar.

“Our members save money in the first month, not over 15 or 20 years,” Mayer said. “Moreover, they can offset up to 100% of their electricity usage in contrast 30-50% that is offset with rooftop solar.”

“For homeowners that want to save money and make a material dent in fossil fuel emissions, community solar is a convenient and easy alternative,” Mayer said.

Kathryn Reed, a marketing representative of Solar Farms New York, will be making a presentation to the Norwich Town Council on July 8. The Council has requested information about how it might enroll community groups and others in the company’s Clean Energy Partner program which rewards towns and non-profits for helping to introduce community solar memberships to their residents and members.

A number of Southern Tier towns including Dryden, Naples and Big Flats, as well as libraries and senior housing groups in Clinton and Essex Counties, have already raised thousands of dollars for their operations from their Clean Energy Partner affiliation.