The Sun Rises on Solar, Part II

Photovoltaic solar panels on sunset sky background,green clean energy concept.

Residents, officials embrace community approach

A free energy supply, provided by the sun, is a prize out of reach for many businesses and property owners. They may have north-facing roofs, which tilt away from the sun’s southern arc in the Northern Hemisphere; inadequate space for ground-mounted arrays; or simply cannot afford a solar-power system, even with generous incentives.

One alternative is community solar, in which individuals, businesses and organizations “subscribe” to the energy produced by privately funded solar farms and receive renewable-energy credits on their electricity bills. In New York, the mandated discount is 10 percent.

Several hundred households, businesses and most of Putnam County’s libraries have joined a community-solar program, said Joe Montouri, the executive director of Sustainable Putnam. “It’s a great deal. It costs nothing to sign up and there’s no penalties for quitting, although I don’t know why anybody would quit.”

Utility-scale solar projects — generally over 10 megawatts — are expected to do much of the heavy lifting as New York State moves to mitigate climate change by replacing power derived from fossil fuels with solar, hydropower and wind. But individuals, municipalities and organizations are also embracing the transition. After declining in 2017 and remaining stable through 2020, solar installations in New York have been rising.

There are at least eight firms that provide community solar in the Hudson Valley. Sustainable Putnam partners with a firm called PowerMarket, whose projects include solar farms in Brewster and North Salem. The Beacon Housing Authority just signed on with Nexamp to support a farm in Greene County.

Founded in 2007, Nexamp has installed arrays of ground-mounted panels in 10 states. Eight of the company’s 40 projects in New York are in Central Hudson’s territory, including a 2.6-megawatt farm off Route 9D in Wappinger. A typical farm produces 5 to 6 megawatts of power per day, enough energy for 1,000 homes, said Keith Hevenor, Nexamp’s communications manager.

Wappinger 9D Solar

Nexamp’s projects include a 12-acre solar farm off Route 9D in Wappinger can produce up to 2.6 megawatts of power. (Nexamp photo)

“The reality is that so many people can’t do rooftop solar for a number of reasons — the roof faces the wrong direction; the roof is too old and would have to be replaced before they could do panels; they are a renter in an apartment or they’re leasing a house and they don’t own their rooftop,” he said.

A decade ago, the Beacon Housing Authority won a $1.5 million federal grant that was combined with state and Dutchess County funds to pay for $2.5 million in energy-efficiency projects, said Roland Traudt, the authority’s executive director.

Part of the money funded the installation of rooftop solar heaters that fill some of the hot-water needs at Forrestal Heights’ high-rise building and at Hamilton Fish Plaza on Eliza Street.

Traudt said the agency explored leasing a rooftop system for electricity but its board did not like the idea of committing to a 20-year deal. Then, along came community solar.

With the authority’s 245 apartments supporting solar and energy efficiency, “that makes a difference,” said Veronica Schetter, the agency’s assistant director. Although the savings are important, “the bigger issue is being better to the environment,” she said.

How to Join

Community solar providers are required to register with the state Department of Public Service, which has a search tool online at

There are eight companies that work with Central Hudson, which serves the Highlands; one firm, SunCommon, has farms in Rhinebeck and Red Hook but both are closed to new subscribers. The others are listed below.

Note: Central Hudson uses a “dual billing” system, meaning you will receive one bill from the utility and another from the solar provider that reflects a 10 percent discount.

Ampion (
Clearway (
Common Energy (
Nexamp (
PowerMarket (
Solar Generation (
Solstice (

As companies continue to build farms, the state is considering amending the rules for community solar to allow for opt-out agreements between municipalities and developers. Residents and businesses would automatically be enrolled but could choose to receive electricity from their utility company or a third party.

Beacon is among a coalition of communities supporting the change, said Chris White, the city administrator. The City Council declined to rejoin a community-choice aggregation program under which Cold Spring, Nelsonville and Philipstown are receiving electricity at a fixed rate.

Under Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), the fixed rate can sometimes be higher than the one charged by a utility company, whose prices for energy fluctuate throughout the year. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” said White. “We wanted to go to a guaranteed-savings model. That’s what community solar does.”

Municipal projects

Beacon is already filling most of its municipal needs with a solar array at Dennings Point that generates roughly 70 percent of the energy it uses, with the rest supplied through the purchase of renewable-energy credits, according to White.

The city, which is mandated to use only renewable sources for electricity under a City Council policy approved in 2021, received a $125,000 state grant to partially fund a 180-kilowatt rooftop solar system at the Highway Department garage. Bidding is expected to take place later this year.

“Eventually, we hope to take that 30 percent that we’re covering with community solar and renewable-energy credits and get close to 100 percent of local production by putting solar panels on other facilities that the city has,” White said.

Philipstown is also eyeing local production. The town is planning to install panels atop its new Highway Department garage on Fishkill Road, but is also envisioning a solar array at its former landfill on Lane Gate Road.

In March, officials from Philipstown and the Environmental Protection Agency toured the property to assess its suitability as a solar farm. Despite concerns about the steepness of its slopes and its orientation toward the south and east, an assessment concluded that 3.5 acres at the landfill are viable for solar panels generating 875 kilowatts annually.

Gas becomes passé for Beacon resident

When Thomas Wright and his business partner decided in 2012 to move their furniture and design company, Atlas Studios, from Brooklyn to a vacant 1920s factory they purchased in Newburgh, they faced the challenges of renovating a century-old building.

One of those challenges — how to individually heat and cool the 40 studios that share the building with Atlas — drove the decision to install the electric air-source heat pumps that feed wall-mounted blowers in each unit.

The pumps were the first in a series of moves to eliminate the use of gas at Atlas; in December, the building became fully electric. The same thing happened at Wright’s home in Beacon earlier this year. “I called Central Hudson and told them to log out our gas meter,” he said.

Wright and Atlas were, and are, ahead of the curve. This year, New York State enacted legislation requiring most new residential and commercial buildings to use only electric appliances and heat by 2026. Win Climate, a think tank that assessed the All-Electric Building Act, estimated that the average new single-family home would cost $904 less annually to heat with an air-source pump.


Thomas Wright checks the ductwork of the pumps that heat and and cool his Beacon home. (Photo by L. Sparks)

Wright said he and his business partner, Joseph Fretesi, began feeling a heightened sense of urgency three years ago because of the mounting evidence of climate-change’s impact, and decided to go beyond the heat pumps. In addition to replacing on-demand hot-water heaters and the gas-powered heaters in the 10,000-square-foot space where Atlas makes furniture, they subscribed to a community-solar project based in Kingston.

At his home, Wright decided, as part of the addition of a second story in 2021, to replace the gas boiler and radiators with air-source pumps that heat and cool. In December, an induction range replaced the gas oven and he installed an electric hot-water heater. (There is also no gas in the garage; his family owns two electric Kias: an EV6 and a Niro.)

In March 2022, Wright had solar panels installed on the home, taking advantage of a hefty federal tax credit included in the Inflation Reduction Act. He tracks their production with a phone app and estimates the system will pay for itself in about eight years.

“Right now, it’s a great time because there’s been a lot of clear days,” he said earlier this summer. “Almost every day, we’re producing a lot more than we’re using.”

Martha Upton, Philipstown’s climate smart coordinator, told the Town Board at its Aug. 3 meeting that because the acreage is small, the town should look to combine the landfill with other town-owned parcels. Sustainable Putnam identified a few town properties that could be viable for solar, she said.

They include 10 acres at the New Leaf Restoration town farm, across Route 403 from the Desmond-Fish Public Library; the parking area at the town park, which may be suitable for a solar canopy; and land behind the Highway Department building.

The landfill alone would be “a good start,” but additional properties “would give us a more substantial project and greater potential benefits,” Upton said.

Jason Angell, a member of the Town Board, said the traditional arrangement is for a developer to lease property from a municipality for the installation of an array whose power they sell, but the Inflation Reduction Act, enacted by President Joe Biden last year, has made it easier for municipalities and nonprofits to own solar farms.

“That’s where it could be fairly lucrative to the town because you own the electricity,” said Angell, who is co-founder of the Ecological Citizen’s Project, which is helping Peekskill develop a community-owned solar project.

The Town Board will discuss options for community solar at a workshop on Wednesday (Sept. 13) at 7:30 p.m.

In Putnam, solar panels that power the county’s Kern Building in Brewster, which houses the Motor-Vehicle and Health departments, went online in July 2021. Additional panels have been installed on four county buildings in Carmel.

Montouri said he has also suggested to Putnam legislators that the county identify cleared lands, both public and private, where solar farms can be erected, and that the county’s Climate Smart Community Task Force promote community solar.

“It would be good for our local grid if there’s more renewable energy locally so that we’re not dependent on so much power coming from upstate New York or Quebec, where a lot of our hydro comes from and will in the future,” he said.

Click here to read Part I

One thought on “The Sun Rises on Solar, Part II

  1. Thank you to Leonard Sparks for another illuminating article (pun intended). I’d like to point out that PowerMarket, Sustainable Putnam’s partner, offers community solar throughout Putnam County and beyond — not just eastern Putnam County, as stated. Central Hudson and NYSEG customers can enroll via

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