Public school rooftops in New York City are a vast untapped resource for generating solar power that could be used to lower yearly city energy costs by millions of dollars, according to a new report by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
Under the current system – using fossil fuel – the New York Department of City Administrative Services is expected to allocate $240 million, or 27.5 percent of the city’s municipal electricity budget to meet the electricity demands of buildings within the Department of Education for fiscal year 2012, said the report.
The borough president’s report estimates that with about 21 million square feet of usable public school rooftop space for solar panels, “the city could increase its solar energy by an estimated 2,507 percent.”
Using information from the City University of New York’s NYC Solar Map, the report also showed that even the solar installation on a partial number school rooftops in the city (1,094 public school buildings) could “host 169.46 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity and eliminate 76,696 tons of carbon from the air each year – the equivalent of planting over 400,000 trees.”
The NYC Solar Map is an interactive online tool that allows users to estimate the solar energy potential for every building in the city’s five boroughs by putting in an address.
The map also highlights existing solar installations; displays real-time solar energy production citywide; and allows users to estimate the costs, incentives, and payback period for an investment in solar power.
The borough president’s report suggests a number of benefits for investing in “school-top solar” including:
- taking pressure off of the city’s overtaxed electrical grid.
- deferring grid infrastructure costs.
- decreasing reliance on fossil fuels.
- creating a cleaner and health.
- creating thousands of local solar installation jobs.
The report projects that this solar build-out “could create an estimated 5,423 green collar jobs.”
Currently, the biggest logistical hurdle for making solar power a reality on a mass-scale in the city is cost. According to Sustainable CUNY, as of April 2010, commercial solar typically costs $0.50 to $2.00 more per watt in NYC than in surrounding areas.
“Local solar installers pointed to two factors to explain these high costs – inconsistent incentives and slow response times from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the administrative barriers at the New York City Department of Buildings,” said the Manhattan borough president’s report.
The report finds that, “Given the relatively high cost of solar energy and installation, a full build out of solar panels on each of the 1,094 public school roofs included in this study would be prohibitively expense if the city was to rely strictly on public funds,” and suggests the exploration of alternative financing mechanisms, including power purchase agreements (PPAs).
In a solar power purchase agreement, a government host allows an independent third party to finance, install, operate, and maintain the solar panels on a roof or other appropriate area. This third party then owns the panels and sells the solar electricity back to the government host at a pre-determined and legally binding rate.
The report suggests that a city benefit under a PPA would be that the initial large capital cost of installation would be covered by the private partners, “thereby requiring minimal up-front public spending” and that the city would have a “predictable cost of electricity for the buildings on which the solar panels” would be installed.
During a press conference at New York City’s Hunter College, Stringer said, “Under these plans, New Jersey and California have installed nearly 500 and 1,000 megawatts of solar energy, respectively. In fact, New Jersey has become the nation’s fastest growing market for solar energy. By contrast, New York City boasts a paltry 6.5 megawatts of publically and privately owned solar electricity.”
Stringer is also urging the New York State Legislature to pass the currently pending Solar Jobs Act, which he says would “establish a system of renewable energy credits, help foster a stable investment climate for power purchase agreements, and ultimately create tens of thousands of jobs and generate billions in revenue.”
Provisions of the pending solar jobs legislation include:
- Creating a solar renewable energy credit system in New York State to create jobs and incentivize investments.
- Establishing a compliance schedule between 2012-2025 for investor-owned utilities (such as the Long Island Power Authority and the New York Power Authority) for the purchase of solar renewable energy credits.
- Requiring investor-owned utilities to purchase at least 40 percent of their credits from their service territory.
In support of the Solar Jobs Act, the Citizens Campaign for the Environment said, “New York State trails other states and nations in installing clean, local, and sustainable solar energy. In 2006, New York State was ranked sixth among states in installed solar, and today New York State has fallen out of the top ten.
“Adding 5,000 megawatts of solar will create an estimated 22,000 jobs and inject over $500 million in annual wages into the New York economy through 2025.”
With specific regard to New York City schools, Stringer said in his report that he would like to see the mayor’s office “draft a comprehensive plan that identifies the schools that should be given top priority for solar panels. The plan should include a reasonable timeline for the installation of rooftop solar on every public school building.” Stringer is also contemplating a New York City mayoral bid in 2013.
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