State

Solar panel installment rate jumps more than 800 percent in central New York

Moriah Ratner | Staff Photograpgher

In the central New York region, the number of solar projects installed between 2011 and 2016 increased by 836 percent, or from 185 to 1,731 cases, according to a press release from Cuomo’s office.

The solar panel installment rate in central New York has jumped by more than 800 percent over the last five years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced.

In the central New York region, the number of projects installed between 2011 and 2016 increased by 836 percent, or from 185 to 1,731 cases, according to a press release from Cuomo’s office. The state as a whole saw a 795 percent increase, although the New York City area had the highest increase in solar projects with 1,719 percent.

“New York is a national leader in clean energy, and the tremendous growth of the solar industry across this state demonstrates this renewable technology’s increased accessibility and affordability for residents and businesses,” Cuomo said in the press release.

Jody McNichol, administrative assistant at the solar panel installment company CNY Solar, Inc. in Oneida, New York, said the company has been in business for seven years and has installed more than 600 solar panels in central New York houses and businesses. She added more people are switching to solar panels for savings and wanting to be “off the grid.”

“Everybody is looking to save some money,” McNichol said.

New York extends tax benefit up to $5,000 and 25 percent credit in solar energy equipment fees for individuals who buy a product, according to the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance website. The federal government also provides tax credits up to 30 percent for solar energy systems, according to energy.gov.

There are additional contributing factors that led to the increase in installment rate, said Chris Carrick, program manager of energy management at the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board. The cost of solar equipment, he said, has gone down by 50 percent and local pro-solar organizations are actively encouraging homeowners and companies to invest in solar energy.

The board is also helping residents applying for grants and connecting them to installers, he said.

“We know there are a lot of interests out there,” Carrick said, adding that he did not find the announcement from the state surprising.

Solar panels also contributed to producing jobs. The Solar Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., highlighted in its 2014 report that more than 140,000 people were employed in the solar industry in November 2014, which was a 22 percent increase from the same month in previous year.

Despite the fact that central New York is among the snowiest regions in the country, Carrick said it makes sense to install solar panels, citing the state’s expensive energy bills and abundance of financial benefits. He said individuals can also take advantage of a program called net metering that allows putting the solar energy that they make but don’t use back onto the grid, which becomes credit to their bills during winter.

“They use the utility grid as a bank during the summer months and then draw down the credits during the winter months,” Carrick said.

Richard Smardon, distinguished service professor emeritus at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, said even in the central New York region, some parts of the area like Ithaca see more sunny days compared to cities like Syracuse or towns along Lake Ontario. Still, he echoed what Carrick said about being reasonable in setting up solar panels in snowy regions, pointing out Syracuse has a similar climate to Germany, where solar energy and other forms of renewable energies are actively promoted.

Charles Hall, professor emeritus at SUNY-ESF who is an expert in systems ecology, however, said solar still accounts for a very small portion of renewable energy.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows solar is the source of only 5 percent of renewable energy — far smaller than hydropower that accounts 46 percent of electricity generation in the U.S. in 2015. Renewable energy contributes only 13 percent in generating electricity, compared to 33 percent in coal and natural gas respectively.

Additionally, renewable energy is unreliable as it is easily influenced by weather conditions.

“The most of our renewable energy in New York still comes from hydro power,” Hall said.

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