Context & Need
Schoharie County is one of the least populous, poorest counties in NY State. In 2014, a solarize style initiative was started in Schoharie but almost immediately ran into the barrier that most residents in the area did not have the financial resources or did not own an appropriate property to invest in solar on their own. This effort demonstrated that there was a high level of interest and need, but that conventional home-owner based installations were not viable for most of Schoharie's community members.
A group of residents teamed up with renewable energy specialists from surrounding regions to help develop a workable model for this type of community.
We developed a plan to create a shared solar installation that serves LMI community members. In addition to focusing on providing discounted clean energy to low to moderate income residents, we are also targeting municipal, civic and nonprofit institutions and organizations to serve as the anchor off-taker. We are working toward realizing a power purchase agreement model, with approximately 10-15% savings on electric bills for subscribers, fixed for a 20-year commitment. Accumulated over time, these savings should be an attractive incentive for the many residents and organizations struggling to pay their bills in this rural upstate county.
Our team members have the collective business, policy, and inter-generational community expertise needed to ensure realistic timelines and steady progress towards completion. Our team includes veteran rural development specialist and solar developer, Bill Jordan; Schoharie resident Sandy MacKay who serves as Chairman of the zoning board of appeals for the town that will host our solar array, and serves on the board of the local low income housing provider; Suzanne Hunt is a renewable energy, policy and rural development specialist who has worked closely with CoShare and NYS representatives to identify and overcome barriers to solar access for LMI communities; Schoharie resident, retired Professor of social psychology Glenn Sanders who has had extensive experience working with local town and county officials on economic development issues; and well known and active Schoharie residents, noted musicians, and solar advocates Bethany Yarrow and Rufus Cappadocia.
Our Community Power team has spent the past year scoping locations, meeting with local government representatives, participating in shared renewables information networks such as CoShare, analyzing the various community solar business models, and learning about what has worked in other states.
We have entered into discussions with entities that can facilitate recruitment of subscribers, as well as negotiations over zoning and permitting, and the integration of educational and agricultural enhancement opportunities.
We are close to securing the property through discussions with the local IDA. Our goal has been to find a property with high visibility and symbolic value to encourage a sense of community connection and pride of ownership. We have also been meeting with local college officials and are working to maximize the educational value of this initial project and use it as a demonstration project that can be replicated. We are in advanced discussions with the local low income housing provider, such that all residents would be offered subscriptions.
Long Term Goal
The intention is for this project to serve as a model that, once completed, can build upon its own success and reputation to be repeated in increasingly shorter time spans both within Schoharie and throughout the very large number of struggling, agricultural/rural counties with similar populations, stresses, and resource constraints.