Local Energy for Local Prosperity
Our modern way of life consumes massive amounts of energy, most of it from non-renewable fossil fuels. Not only is this unsustainable and environmentally destructive, but it also represents a drain on wealth from small communities to large utilities and energy corporations. We often hear about the importance of greater energy independence for America, why not energy independence for our region?
Developments in renewable energy technology have made it easier and more affordable than ever before to help wean ourselves from energy dependency, and our area is blessed with an abundant natural endowment of wood, sun, and wind. By responsibly developing local energy supplies that are locally owned for local users, and by rethinking the inefficiencies in our energy usage habits, we can not only help reduce our carbon footprint, but can also save money as well.
Many individual homes and businesses are already using grid-tied solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to supplement their electricity needs through the use of net metering. Net metering allows customers to subtract excess electricity supplied from their PV systems to the grid directly from their consumption from the grid, and so only pay for their net consumption. This alleviates many of the problems caused by the intermittency of solar power and the time mismatch between generation and demand.
Virtual net metering extends the idea of net metering to allow credits from a single generation source to be distributed to multiple customers physically separated from that source. This would allow, for example, a solar PV farm in a dedicated location to effectively supply energy to homes and businesses where individual PV systems are not practical or affordable. New York State has already passed a bill authorizing virtual net metering in certain cases (A6270B-2011) and a further bill (S3217-2013) extending this for more general residential customer use is currently under consideration in the New York State Senate.
We will be following the progress of this legislation and looking into the possibility of developing solar farms on otherwise unused land. An acre of land could host over 650 kW of PV capacity, producing up to 825,000 kWh per year. That’s worth over $150,000 at residential rates and is enough to power over 100 average New York state homes.
Residents and businesses would contribute to the construction costs of these farms and receive shares of the energy credits produced on their electric bills.
Solar PV systems have shown a trend of increasing efficiency and decreasing costs in recent years and are in many cases competitive with traditional utility provision on a fully-costed basis. Solar farms using virtual new metering could provide a way to make the economics of PV systems even better by centralizing and sharing the up-front costs. So we can not only reduce our carbon footprint and gain energy independence, but also save some money!