An array of shimmering panels covering 3 acres in New York’s Finger Lakes is a sign of the state’s latest push to catch up to its neighbors in the Northeast that have set the pace in recent years for promoting solar energy.
The project in Romulus, N.Y., that will produce much of the electricity for the Seneca County sheriff’s department, was funded in part with a grant of almost $1 million from the state’s NY-Sun program. The initiative by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration will provide tens of millions of dollars a year for public and private projects producing at least a megawatt of solar power, the equivalent of about 200 typical residential installations.
An initial round of competition in 2012 allocated $30 million to 16 developers in New York City and the Hudson Valley who planned to put a total of 34 megawatts online by the end of this year.
One aim of NY-Sun is to help meet goals for increasing the share of the state’s energy needs covered by renewable sources, now dominated by hydropower. Another is to close the gap with other states that moved more aggressively and quickly to encourage development of solar.
Massachusetts, for example, saw 129 megawatts of solar installed in 2012 compared to 60 in New York, according to an industry group. At the same time, 415 megawatts were installed in New Jersey, where regulatory policy created a system that has utilities effectively subsidizing solar owners to meet renewable energy standards.
“It quickly comes down to policies,” said Michael Johnson, a California-based expert on funding such projects, who returned to his home county this month to help flip the switch on the Romulus system. “Every state does it their own way.”
Developers say Massachusetts and Vermont outpaced New York, in part, because of more generous incentives for a wider range of projects.