I’ve been partnering with Our Power to let you know about community solar, and especially, to make sure that if you live in New York, you don’t miss your chance to sign up and find out when community solar New York projects become available. When Our Power’s Jessie Sitnick told me about her aunt, Toby, and why she signed up, it was such a great story, I asked her if she’d share it with you. I won’t be surprised if, when you read about Toby, you think to yourself, “That sounds just like me!”
How Toby Discovered New York’s Best Kept Secret:
Community Solar New York
As Toby flipped through the real estate pages of the New York Times last weekend, sipping her morning cup of coffee and enjoying the sunlight flooding her Brooklyn kitchen, this is the headline that caught her eye.
“I’ve been ready,” she told me. The problem was being able to take advantage of it.
“I never thought we could do it. Not where we live and not at the current cost.”
All that changed when Toby found out about community solar.
Admission: I was the one who let her in on the secret. I work in the environmental sector and we’ve bonded over the years chatting about social issues. We were on the phone and I asked her if she had heard about this new legislation that got passed in New York, which basically will make it possible for people to buy solar power from local solar gardens. That means no panel installations on your roof, no fire code worries, no big capital investments.
She said, “Count me in!”
Then I told her about Our Power, an organization that connects people to community solar projects as soon as they become available. “So I signed up,” she says, “because this is the kind of thing we’ve really been waiting for and I decided, I’m not going to miss it.”
Meet Toby – Child Psychologist, Life-long New Yorker, Hopeful Grandma
With her stylish silver hair, bright eyes, and bohemian jewelry, Toby is the quintessential baby boomer. Now in her mid-60s, Toby still works long hours as a child psychologist. Her husband is retired; her children are grown up and living on their own.
“The last big thing I want out of life is grandkids,” she says, and I can hear the smile in her voice.
“The thing is, when you get to this point in life – it’s no longer so much about you anymore. You start thinking a whole lot more about the world your kids are facing, the world your grandchildren might face. And you think, how can I make this better for them?”
Toby has always cared about the environment. She recycled before it was cool. When her son started having asthma attacks as a little boy, she worried about the air quality in the city. Was living here hurting him?
She’s kept her eye on the renewable energy movement for the past five years or so. She believes switching to solar is as much about taking a stand against climate change and pollution as anything else.
“I have friends who live outside the city – Long Island or out in the country – and they put in solar panels. It was a big deal. I mean, it was expensive, a big decision. But I was really proud of them for making that choice. Living here, it never really seemed like an option.”
“How Are We Not Doing This?”
As Toby scanned the New York Times article, the stories sounded familiar. Couples, about her age, taking out loans to afford the upfront cost of panels. Or being told that, even though they were willing to pay, that it wasn’t worth it because their roofs were flat or shaded by other buildings.
“It’s frustrating when you want to do the right thing, and you see other people doing it, but it’s just not available to you,” she said.
Toby knows that solar technology has become much more affordable in recent years and that there are also a lot of new government incentives in New York to help people convert. Living in the city is expensive, she notes.
If solar can help lower her electricity bills, that’s huge.
“When you read that these people’s electricity bill went from over $250 per month to about $36 per month, you think, how are we not doing this?” she asked, referring to the Brooklyn couple cited in the article (a filmmaker and TV producer in their late 60s).
“But then you read that it cost them almost $7,000 up front to install the panels! I get that that’s a lot less than it used to be. Still, that’s not a small amount money.”
Going, Going, Gone…
What surprised Toby the most was that the article didn’t refer to community solar at all. “They mention these solar co-op groups people are starting, which is great. But that still means people installing panels on their roofs and that’s not going to be an option for everyone. Our roof is flat, we’re surrounded by buildings. So for us, community solar will be a better way to go. But it still seems like it’s a bit of a secret.”
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I asked. “Well, I guess right now it’s kind of good for us because I expect that as soon as more people know about this, those community solar spots will fill up pretty quickly.”
It’s not lost on Toby that these new projects will only be able to serve about 2% of New York households.
Get in On the Secret
Nevertheless, she says, “ultimately I really hope people wake up to this idea. I hope the media start talking about it too because there are plenty of people like me who are ready for solar power. We want to leave the world a better place for our grand kids. We just need the opportunity.”
Are You in on New York’s Best Kept Solar Secret?
Become an Our Power Insider today.
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