The concept and solution


In the 1970s, my father was one of the forward thinkers who installed solar panels on our family home in Canastota, NY.   Looking back, I don’t recall our neighbors having solar panels, so I guess my dad was a man ahead of his time.

When I purchased my historic home in Albany, New York in 1995, I thought about solar energy for my electrical needs, but it was put on the back burner as my house needed a total restoration, inside and out.

Now that the restoration of my home is almost complete, it is time for my wife and I to seriously consider reducing our carbon footprint and explore the possibility of solar energy for our house.

City of Albany

In 2010, the City of Albany’s Mayor’s Office of Energy and Sustainability was formed. Since this time, the city has formed a Sustainability Advisory Committee and has adopted Albany’s 2030 Climate Action Plan.

The City of Albany Building Codes/Zoning Regulations, Chapter 375 Article XIV (Section 375.93) states: “Solar energy and solar access are recognized as valid public rights, and the use of solar energy equipment for the purpose of providing electricity and energy for heating and/or cooling has been determined to be a priority and is a necessary component of the City of Albany’s current and long-term sustainability agenda.”

I am proud to say that I live in a city that encourages the use of solar energy and is working diligently to become a sustainable city.

In areas such as the Center Square area of Albany where I live, the Code/Zoning Regulations state: “Installations in designated historic districts as shall require a certificate of appropriateness form the Historic Resources Commission . . .”

In order to receive a Certificate of Appropriateness for solar panels on our roof (a flat rubber roof), the panels must not be visible from the street. While this may not be a problem for me and many of my neighbors, given the height of our homes, the more pressing issue is that the size of our roofs are not adequate to handle the number of solar panels needed for our energy consumption.

Rooftop issues

Most of our historic homes in Center Square have chimneys, drains, vents, cupolas, and skylights, which make it hard for an adequate number of solar panels to be installed. In addition, many of my neighbors and I enjoy the use of our rooftops for patios, gardens and stargazing.

In other areas of the city where the roof space is adequate, there may not be enough cleared tree space or shadows from neighboring buildings for the homeowner to have adequate access to full sun to make the most of solar panels. As you can now understand, there are many reasons that rooftop solar panels will not work for everyone.

Solution – Solar Farms/Shared Solar

On May 1st, 2016, The Shared Renewables Initiative, which was passed last year by the New York State Legislature, became effective. Homeowners, renters, schools, and businesses are now able to purchase and benefit from solar energy generated on solar farms. These solar farms, also known as community solar, will solve the problems for many Albany homeowners unable to use solar energy in the past.

Solar Farms are areas of land, which are capable of housing large groups of solar panels, which would be owned by various electricity consumers. For example: You and at least nine of your neighbors would each buy solar panels, which would fit your individual energy needs. These panels would be installed at a remote location, but owned by you. The power your solar panels generate would be fed back into the power grid and credited to your account (National Grid in Albany).

You would receive the same benefit as if the panels were installed on the roof of your home. You would save on converting equipment, storage batteries when power is not being used, and the higher cost to access and install solar panels on city roofs.

To encourage more sustainability through solar, there is a federal tax credit incentive which provides great savings on the technology and allows you to qualify for a 30% incentive if you buy, lease or take out a loan to secure your solar energy project.

It should be noted that the NY State Tax credit is not extended to Community Shared Renewables programs (Solar Farms) as the state legislature felt that a greater cost savings occurs due to higher costs to install on city roofs.