Recording Now Available
Accessing the Benefits of Community Solar Near You
Pallavi Balakrishnan, Community Solar Manager
Glenn MacKay, Project Manager
Pallavi Balakrishnan: Hello everyone. I hope everyone can hear me well. Thank you very much for joining our webinar today. We’re going to be talking about community solar and how we can access the benefits of community solar.
Introductions and Agenda
As a quick introduction, my name is Pallavi, and I am the Community Solar Manager at OYA Solar. I help lead OYA’s efforts in educating as many people as we can on the benefits of going solar through our community solar project. So today, I will specifically go into details about how anyone who has an electric meter can subscribe to a project with OYA. I will just quickly pass it over to my colleague Glenn who’ll give a quick introduction about himself.
Glenn: Thanks Pallavi. Hi everyone. My name is Glenn Mackay. I am a Project Manager at OYA Solar. And I will spend a few minutes giving a very high-level overview of the steps involved in developing our community solar projects. I won’t be going into too many details. If you have any questions at all that come to mind while I am talking, please drop them in the chat and we’ll get to them at the end.
Pallavi: Perfect. So thank you, Glenn. On our agenda today we’ll go over a community solar farm and how it’s developed and constructed. We’ll also go into the benefits of community solar. There are several benefits including the savings that you’ll be taking advantage of on your electricity bill. We’ll walk you through some current examples of subscribers that we have subscribed to our community solar project. We’ll also look to taking up any questions at the end, but in the meantime, we do have a poll question that we’ll ask everyone to answer.
Poll: Have You Heard of Community Solar?
So the question is: have you heard of community solar? I’ll give everyone a quick minute to answer the question. It should pop up on your screen.
So really, from quickly looking at the poll answers, we have about a majority, 62% of the votes here know the basics of community solar. That’s great because today we’re going into more details on what community solar is, and I hope you can take away some new information today.
The Main Benefits of Community Solar
Going right into the benefits of community solar. There are several, as you can see. The main one is the savings on your electricity bill, and how you can benefit from that (we will go into the details about how that works in a later slide). This is a very important feature of subscribing to community solar, especially in light of the financial challenges brought on by Covid over the past year.
More businesses and individuals are paying close attention to their monthly expenses and subscribing to the community solar. We’ll help you achieve that goal. With regards to upfront payments – there are none when you’re subscribing to community solar projects with us.
Solar Developers Take on All the Risks of Community Solar
Our company, a developer of solar projects, takes on all the risks and costs related to permitting, financing, and constructing of the solar projects and systems. You, as a subscriber, do not have to worry about making any payments or installing any panels on your rooftop.
As you already know, in a state like New York, a lot of businesses and individuals don’t have access to solar because they either rent or live in a multi-tenanted building. And some people simply don’t like installing panels, which is why community solar is the best bet for you because it overcomes all these barriers and provides businesses, homeowners, and renters with fair and equal access to solar energy.
Community Solar Supports the Economy
So finally, by participating and subscribing to our community solar project, you’re part of a community that’s not only driving positive change from an environmental standpoint but also contributing to the development of the local economy. All of the projects that we build at OYA Solar engage local contractors and resources. As a result, we’re all supporting the development of the local economy, and the new jobs being created as a result.
Community Solar vs Rooftop Solar
This slide shows the differences between a community solar project and a traditional rooftop solar project. The best way to appreciate the differences is to look at a current client of ours who was a prospective subscriber with which we were in discussions last year. They had senior living, multi-unit facilities with over 3,000 units in multiple buildings.
They were originally considering onsite rooftop solar as they were interested in becoming more environmentally friendly. In the process of reviewing several different options for rooftop installation, they found that the cost of construction and maintenance of the rooftop solar site was far more than the benefits. So we were able to step in and showed them by subscribing to our community solar projects that they were able to save over $500,000 over 25 years without the hassle of installing solar panels on their building.
Glenn’s going to be talking about the development infrastructure of a traditional community solar project.
Why Build Community Solar Projects?
Glenn: Thank you Pallavi. So the concept behind community solar is quite brilliant from an efficiency standpoint, as Pallavi alluded to. Instead of having to design and build hundreds – even thousands – of small solar panel projects on individual properties, we can consolidate those same solar panel projects into a single solar array. This approach drives the cost of generating the same amount of power way down, which benefits everyone.
The cost savings in doing it this way essentially get passed down to the final consumer, in our case, the subscribers of the project. To give you a quick rundown of the process and why we have chosen it to be our specialty, step one in the process: is to find a suitable property that can be home to a community solar array. We have an origination team at OYA Solar, who uses several characteristics to locate potential properties.
The Main Characteristics of Ideal Community Solar Sites
An obvious factor that we will need is a certain amount of space. Community solar project will need an area ranging between as little as 8 acres up to around 40 acres. So we look for properties that are in that neighborhood as a minimum. If the property is larger, that’s no problem. We’ll end up using and leasing only the space required for the solar equipment.
We’ll also look at the topography, the number of trees on the site, and the amount of wetland or water area. If the property looks like it is suitable, we’ll contact the landowner by letter and introduce ourselves and see if they’re interested in leasing a portion of their property.
Once we lease the property, we’ll dive into a more detailed design, meaning we’ll tailor the shape and size of the solar array based on those land characteristics dimensionally. We hire environmental scientists to go to the site and identify any species who may be affected by the construction or placement of the array.
If we settled on a near-final design, we’ll send our plans to the town to begin the Municipal approval process. This will typically involve public hearings, so all members of the local community have an opportunity to provide input on the project.
While we’re working with the town, we’ll also send our plans to federal and state environmental agencies. This is to make sure that our proposed design does not have any unexpected, negative impacts on sensitive habitats, say forest or wetland areas. Since we need to connect to existing electrical infrastructure, we’ll also work with the local utility company to understand and plan for the upgrades, which will inevitably be necessary to connect to their grid. The overall permitting process takes between six months and a year, depending on the number of changes we may need to make along the way.
Those could be due to public comments or comments and recommendations from any of the environmental agencies we check in with. Once we got the green light from the municipality and both state and federal agencies, we’ll plan for construction.
From start to finish, construction typically takes around six months. And when we start construction on the site, we make sure to use the most low-impact construction methods and components. This is to make sure that there is the least amount of disturbance to the land beneath and around the array.
So except for a couple of hundred square feet of cement that we need to support some of the electrical components, every other part of the array is intended to be easily installed and easily removed. The solar array is surrounded by a typical safety fence, where the posts are driven into the ground. This means we don’t need to pour any concrete for the fence. That’s a very low-impact method, and the solar array also uses driven or screw-style posts to support the panels.
We do require an access road, but we’ll always use gravel and pavement. Any spots on the property that we do end up disturbing, we’ll reseed with pollinator-friendly grass species. Our intentions with our designs are always to make the solar array as low impact as possible and blend it into the surrounding landscape. If we know the solar array might be visible from the nearby roads or residential properties, we plant as much vegetation as necessary outside of the safety fence to hide the array from view.
Poll: What Aspect of Community Solar is Most Important to You?
So now that we’ve described the overall development process, we’re interested in understanding which aspects of community solar might be most important to you.
There should be a poll question popping up. There it is. So if you could take a moment and let us know your answers, that helps us continue to understand what matters most to the community.
Pallavi: We’re just waiting for a few more people to answer the poll.
Glenn: Okay, so as expected, savings are important, as is support for clean energy, which is beautiful to see, contribution to the local economy, and all of the above. That’s good, thank you, everyone. It helps us understand where to focus our efforts.
How Do Developers Pass on The Savings?
Pallavi: One of the most frequently asked questions is how do the savings get calculated, and basically, where do the 10% savings come from?
As soon as the community solar farm is built, it is connected to the local utility grid, and it starts to generate electricity. In exchange for the energy generated from the farm, the utility provides a monetary credit, and that is calculated based on several variables.
OYA then receives this credit and passes on 10% of the bill credit to anyone who subscribed to our community solar project. And as I mentioned earlier, subscribers can be anyone. It can be businesses, community organizations, or individual consumers. Once the 10% discount is passed to the subscriber, the remaining credit goes to the developer to cover operating and construction costs. It’s important to know that throughout the subscription the utility will continue to power your property, and there is no change as to how you receive electricity.
When you’re deciding to subscribe to a community solar project, there are still several questions that you have to go through and ask us. So one of them is whether the developer has expertise in the industry and a proven track record? So how long has the developer been in this industry is an important question to ask.
Also, in line with that, when is that project going to go live that you’re considering subscribing to? So as soon as it goes live, essentially is when you’ll start saving. So that is an important question to ask as well.
What are the Community Solar Contract Terms?
Some of the other questions are what are your contract terms? So typically, a subscription contract can be anywhere between 15-25 years – a standard in the industry I see is 25 years. And so that is something that you have to look into as well as if you’re able to cancel your agreement and how much of a notice you have to give the developer to get out of the contract?
And finally, what is the percentage of bill credit savings that you as a subscriber will get? This ranges typically from 5 to 10%. At OYA, we offer a 10% full credit at this time on subscriptions.
How Do I Subscribe to a Community Solar Project?
Three simple steps are involved in how to subscribe to a community solar project with OYA Solar.
The first step is to assess your energy usage, and how we do that is to look at your utility bills over the past 12-month period. Based on your usage and spend, we then estimate how much of a percentage you will be allocated from one of our projects. And in line with that, we will also be able to give you an estimated amount of savings that you will realize on your electricity costs going-forward.
First, we’ll then assign your account to a community solar project, and then, we will review all the terms and conditions that come with subscribing to our community solar project with us, and the final step is signing the agreement. So that essentially secures your agreement with us and allows you to realize a 10% savings on your utility account.
As soon as the signing is complete, we’ll let you know once the project is operational. Our upcoming solar project is based in Franklin County, New York, and it is expected to launch in May or June of this year.
Who is Subscribing to OYA Solar Projects?
Here are a few examples that we would offer in terms of current subscribers that we have allocated to our community solar project. The first one is a large county in New York. After reviewing their annual usage, we calculated that their savings annually basis would be about 119,000. On a 25-year basis, this amounts to about 3 million for that county, which is quite substantial.
A second example is a large grocery chain that has over several hundred stores in New York. We reviewed their bills, and we were able to determine that they would save about $21,000 on an annual basis which translates to about half a million in savings in a 25-year subscription contract with OYA Solar.
So, to run with the large grocery chain, the main reasons they picked OYA was to save on their electricity bills and to subscribe to a cleaner source of energy. They chose OYA in particular because we have been in the industry since 2009, and we have a large portfolio of projects in multiple utility areas such as NYSEG and National Grid. We also have over 60 years of industry experience at the leadership level.
Some of our projects are expected to start in 2021. We have about 17 community solar projects. We’re very active in New York, of course, but we do have projects in other states as well. The project that is coming live around May or June of this year is based in Franklin County. It is in the NYSEG Utility, so anyone who is in that utility area is eligible to subscribe to this community solar project. To give you some perspective on how large this project is, a solar project of this size which is 5 megawatts can power about 1,000 average households in New York. And over 25 years, this project would be offsetting about 30,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
To end things off, I’ve talked about our experience in the industry. We’ve been around since 2009, are very active in New York, but we have projects in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania as well. We are expecting our first community solar project to go live in May or June, and we’re opening that up for subscriptions. So, if you are interested, I listed our email in the next slide; it is firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to email us if you’re interested in subscribing to our solar project. Time is of the essence, so it will be on a first-come, first-serve basis as well. With that, I’ll end the webinar, I thank you for your time, and we’re here to answer any questions you may have at this time.
Will the Billing Credit Change Over the Term of The Contract, or Is It Set?
The 10% of the credit shouldn’t change over the term of the contract. The actual credit might change because it’s based on several variables such as energy generation and the cost of electricity, which is calculated by the utility. That amount might change, but the 10% of the build credit that the subscriber gets will not change over the term of the contract.
Would a Customer of OYA Solar Have To Pay Two Electric Bills?
That depends on the utility’s territory. National Grid already has a consolidated billing process, where the credit will be applied to your utility bill. Then, OYA gets the remaining credit directly, so it gets routed to OYA directly – it will be a consolidated billing mechanism. Some other utilities like NYSEG are in the process of rolling out consolidated billing. It is possible that in the meantime, you will see a separate bill from OYA so that the remaining credit gets routed to OYA, and you still keep the 10% of the billing credit.
Who Handles My Subscription Over Time?
We have a team that will administer the subscription process, so I’ve listed our email, email@example.com. As soon as we get the process started with your subscription to a project, we will keep you posted on an on-going basis. You will receive communications from us like monthly reporting, and we will also give you a dedicated inbox as well as a phone number that you can call for any question that you may have.
Does OYA Charge a Fee to End the Contract, and What Is The Contract Term?
Typically, our contracts go anywhere between 15 to 25 years, depending on whether you’re a consumer or a residential client. There’s always the ability to cancel for sure, so that is possible. In terms of a fee, if you’re a residential client, there is no fee to end the contract, you just have to give us a notification. We do need about 90-days’ notice to cancel.
So How Will I Receive Updates About the Project, And Will I Be Notified If Something Goes Wrong?
You will receive updates as soon as you subscribe to a project with us. You will receive updates directly from us, whether it’s via email or any preferred method of communication, such as a phone call. With regards to updates about the project, you have subscribed to, and if anything goes wrong, we will keep you notified.
What Is the Lease Payment On an 8 to 40-Acre Land Parcel?
Glenn: Great question. Several factors go into negotiating the lease rate. It depends on the property, the construction costs, the size, the proximity to existing utility infrastructure. There’s no blanket statement I can, unfortunately, provide you, but typically, as a rule of thumb, it’s well above what agricultural production is providing. If you have any more questions about that, feel free to email us, and we can dig into the details.
Pallavi: Okay, we’ll just keep going here; we have tons of questions. This is great to see all the participation, so thank you, everyone.
Do I have to be an NYSEG customer to subscribe to the Franklin County project?
Absolutely. I think that is the first step to determine what utility you’re based in. So, the Franklin County project will be connected to the NYSEG utility, and you have to be an NYSEG customer to subscribe to that project. That being said, if you are connected to another utility such as National Grid, we do have other projects that would apply to you.
Are You Reaching Out to Landowners? I Received a Notice That I Would Be Receiving a Call, But I Have Not.
That just means that you are definitely on the list, Blair, so we will keep you in mind and reach out to you after this. We are actively and always reaching out to landowners for potential land leases.
Let’s see here. We have a question here. Maybe, Glenn, you can help me with this?
What Will You Do To Ensure That The Panels Won’t Become Shaded By Another Structure In The Future?
Glenn: Yeah, good question. Typically, we design the array around existing shading, and oftentimes, there will be a forested area surrounding it. So, as I said, we tailor the design based on the area, in which we want to install the array. Typically we’ll avoid shaded areas in the first place. So it’s not much of a concern. Also, if we know that there’s a chance that it will end up in the shade by some structure, the odds of a fifty-story building going up next to it is pretty low. But we have also overbuilt the array a little bit so that if shade does become a factor, it doesn’t affect the output of the system at all.
Pallavi: Okay, and then some—A last couple of questions here.
Once I Subscribe to a Certain Amount, Can I Change It Later If I Add An EV Charging Station, For Example?
So, from what I understand, you’re asking if you can change your subscription allocation in the future? The answer is yes; we can always change it. For example, if you’ve moved, and you have a higher usage next year, we can increase that allocation amount to our project. The process is very simple, but you should notify us that it’s being done, and then we can make changes on our end.
All right, I think we’ve come to the end of our questions here. If you do have any more questions, you can put yourself on unmute and ask at this time. Or, if you think of any solutions after this, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-844-443-1870. We’re always happy to take any questions you have, and we hope you’ve enjoyed this session today and learned something more about community solar. Thank you, everyone, for your participation.