Will New York Lawmakers See the (Sun) Light?
Submitted by Bob Rossi - Stephan Roundtree June 20, 2018


New York’s solar policy is causing a critical slowdown in development with dire consequences for small businesses, working class New Yorkers, and communities of color. The New York Sustainable Business Council (NYSBC), the American Sustainable Business Council’s affiliate in New York State, represents thousands of New York businesses that uphold high standards of environmental stewardship and social responsibility. WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a community-based organization located in Harlem, NYC, dedicated to helping low income communities of color thrive and access fair environmental conditions. Together, NYSBC and WE ACT speak for businesses and residents throughout New York State and have united in support for solar energy.

After years of healthy growth in New York’s solar industry, recent regulatory changes by the state Public Service Commission (PSC) have slowed the solar market. We need to act quickly and decisively to protect the solar industry with its 9,000 employees and ensure access to solar power for all New Yorkers.

Critical to this vision is the community solar model, which makes solar power accessible to anyone, including renters. Community solar panels can be located anywhere in the community, rather than requiring each household to put solar on their own property.

In 2015, Governor Cuomo and the PSC promised to make renewable energy available to everyone “regardless of zip code or income.” Unfortunately, this initiative has been overpowered by corporate utilities insisting that solar energy be valued based on its convenience for the existing grid.

This approach has resulted in a disastrous mechanism for valuing solar power called VDER (Value of Distributed Energy Resources). The VDER formula is unnecessarily complex, lacks transparency, and compensates solar energy at unfairly low rates. The solar industry estimates that they have cancelled hundreds of millions of dollars in projects as a result of VDER. Based on data from NYSERDA, solar investment in first quarter 2018 is down 73% compared to first quarter 2017.

WE ACT and NYSBC, along with community groups and businesses across the state, believe that renewable energy benefits the public, the environment, and the economy — and that the value of solar energy should reflect those benefits.

We object to the VDER policy from both a business perspective and a justice perspective. VDER has created market instability, which has deterred investment, has prevented developers from breaking ground, and will hinder the completion of existing projects. National solar installers are prioritizing other states because of finance challenges under VDER. In short, VDER is bad for business.

Stifling development of community solar also unjustly and disproportionately harms low income people of color in New York. Without community solar, these predominantly renter communities are unable to benefit from lower energy costs or contribute to overall carbon reduction.

This holds true for small businesses as well, as they typically rent or lack adequate space for solar installation. Small businesses are the primary drivers of job growth in New York State and invest heavily in their local economies. VDER is failing this cornerstone of New York’s business community.

This situation can be remedied. A bill in the New York State Legislature that would pause VDER and create a transparent process for fixing it has the support of over 100 organizations, businesses, and municipalities. Governor Cuomo could also lead the way by ensuring that his regulatory agencies follow through on his promise that renewable energy would be available for all.

Our government, our prosperity, and our climate should not be subordinate to the needs of a monopolistic utility. We call on all New York State legislators and Governor Cuomo to work quickly to save community solar, protect renewable energy jobs, and ensure that all residents and businesses can benefit from clean energy.

Bob Rossi, Executive Director of the New York Sustainable Business Council (NYSBC), the American Sustainable Business Council’s affiliate in New York State.

Stephan Roundtree Jr., Environmental Policy and Advocacy Coordinator of WE ACT for Environmental Justice (WE ACT).