Governor Cuomo, Stop “Darth VDER” from killing solar in New York!

On August 28, CLP joined the Energy Democracy Alliance and other groups holding press conferences in six cities (NYC, Long Island, Kingston, Syracuse, Elmira, and Buffalo) with an urgent call to Governor Cuomo: Fix New York’s solar policy by restoring net metering – the old policy under which the utility bought any solar energy you contributed to the grid at the price you would have paid if you were buying that same electricity from the utility.

Since 2017, new solar projects up to 5 Megawatts (originally up to 2 Megawatts) and all new community solar projects have been subjected to a new rule called VDER (for “Value of Distributed Energy Resources”). The VDER rule makes the value of electricity produced by solar arrays subject to a set of complex, changing variables that are impossible to predict with certainty. Project developers and community solar subscribers can’t actually know what they will receive from the utility for the energy they produce. The result? Projects are not proceeding, New York is no longer one of the top ten states in the US when it comes to solar installation, and VDER has become known as “Darth VDER” because it is killing the solar business in New York. (Note: Small-scale solar, installed “behind the meter,” is still available to residential and small business customers on a net-metered basis IF the installation is completed by December 31, 2019.)

Coverage of the press conference included detailed reportage by Allison Dunne on WAMC and Lynn Woods in the Kingston Times, as well as TV coverage in Albany, sponsored by the Energy Democracy Alliance, that included additional comments by Anthony Sicari.

Opposition to VDER is widespread. In fact, in September, the NY State Assembly passed a law that would have postponed implementation of VDER for three years; unfortunately, the State Senate did not act on it. In arguing for the bill, President of the NYS Sustainable Business Council Bob Rossi said "Investors are wary of VDER because it's a complex formula, it's not transparent. And it's estimated that we're looking at close to a billion dollars in lost investment in solar in New York State." Rossi estimated that the slowdown in solar installations had cost almost a billion dollars in investments and prevented the creation of more than 1,000 new solar jobs in upstate New York.

To fix the VDER mess, CLP and the Energy Democracy Alliance have a straightforward proposal for the governor: Restore net metering, at least until a new, workable version of VDER is available. In the meantime, if developers find that VDER is economical for them, they should be free to go forward. Everyone else, including community solar projects no matter what their size, should have the option of going back to net metering. CLP board chair Susan Gillespie summed it up this way: “We want the governor to get back into the business of worrying about solar, making sure that we reach the goal that he helped set in this state. It won’t happen unless we change our policy, and he should make that happen.” Governor Cuomo set the goal for New York State of making 50% of its energy fossil-free by 2030.

Anthony Sicari, owner of Sunpower by New York State Solar Farm, and Tom Kacandes, president of Inside Track Solar, which developed the first community solar project to be completed in the Mid-Hudson Valley, have a lot to say about the damage caused by VDER. Both were outspoken in their criticism and had concrete stories to back it up. Sicari’s firm has 40 full-time employees and has been installing 200 solar arrays in the Mid-Hudson region every year. He described a process so complicated that it takes three staff people to come up with projections for a single proposed project, and reported that VDER had forced him to pull the plug on a new community solar project. Kacandes, who developed the first community project in the downstate area, also described VDER as completely unworkable. He called for control over large solar development to be handed over from the PSC to the New York Power Authority (NYPA). Created under Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, NYPA is the largest state public power organization in the US. It owns and manages most hydro generation in NY and has already led the State’s ambitious programs to reduce energy consumption at state buildings, create an electric vehicle infrastructure in NY state (Charge NY), and bring solar power to schools (K-Solar).

Marbletown Town Council member and Environmental Commission chair Tom Konrad also attended. He reported that three of the town’s green energy initiatives need community solar, but “if the projects are uneconomic to build, which is the case under VDER, they won’t get built.”

Recently, the PSC released two white papers acknowledging that there are problems and proposing minor fixes. Speakers at the press conference and others across the state unanimously hold the proposed improvements for inadequate to fix the problems.