In 2015, the New York Public Service Commission established a new Community Distributed Generation Program to expand consumer access to local solar power, particularly among low- and moderate-income New Yorkers.
The Community Distributed Generation (DG) Program projects fall under the state’s net metering policy and are subject to the same rules including project size and credit rate. The July 17, 2015 Order sought to achieve broad community participation through special requirements, such as a 10-customer minimum per project and a limit on the percentage of output that any one customer can represent. Project sponsors may be an energy service company, municipal entity, business, nonprofit, LLC, partnership, or other form of business or civic association so that communities have flexibility to pursue a development and ownership structure of their choosing.
The Order also established a two-phase process for program roll-out and refinement. In Phase 1 (October 19, 2015 – April 30, 2016), priority was given to projects that met one of two stipulations:
- Located in a Community DG Opportunity Zone – Identified by utilities, presented through an interactive mapping platform and comprising at least 40 percent of a utility’s service territory; or
- Low-income participation – Membership includes at least 20 percent low-income customers, defined as a customer participating in a state or utility low-income discount program
Unfortunately, Phase 1 did not result in any projects. In Phase 2 (beginning May 1, 2016), the entire utility service territory was opened to shared renewables projects. This long-term program design is being informed through a Low-Income Customer Collaborative process with NYSERDA and low-income community organizers, utilities, and other interested stakeholders. This collaborative was tasked with creating mechanisms for removing obstacles to participation and devising demonstration projects for maximum low-income participation. On August 15, 2016, Department of Public Service Staff issued a report on the Collaborative Regarding Community Distributed Generation for Low-Income Residential Customers.
Ways to improve New York’s Community DG program and ensure low-income participation are currently being explored through a number of different Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceedings and public stakeholder processes. Some of the identified solutions include waiving the 10-member minimum requirement for projects located on properties with multiple units and increasing incentive levels and/or creating new incentives to support low-income access to solar.