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When I think of climate leadership, I think of Governor Kathy Hochul in New York. At the outset of Climate Week, Governor Hochul announced the transformation of NY-SUN’s distributed solar goal from 6 gigawatts (GW) to 10 GW by 2030. Distributed solar includes community solar and rooftop solar projects. That’s enough energy to power 1.5 million homes, assuming the New York average of 150 households per megawatt. This nation-leading target is a pivotal step toward achieving New York state’s ambitious goal of 70% renewable energy by 2030.

Now that the governor has set an ambitious goal, the question is how to reach it in a way that benefits everyone.

We need to ensure Governor Hochul’s new target includes concrete ways to ensure that disadvantaged communities benefit from the clean energy transition.

When most people think of “distributed solar,” they think of solar panels on the roofs of homes. But the reality is that for nearly two-thirds of Americans (including New Yorkers), rooftop solar is out of reach. They may be apartment dwellers, rent their home, have a roof that isn’t appropriate for solar, or simply be unable to afford the upfront cost.

That’s where community solar comes in. Community solar allows anyone — no matter where they live or how much money they make — to participate in the clean energy revolution and save money in the process. By subscribing to a new solar farm in the area, anyone can help bring clean, renewable energy to the grid and reduce their monthly energy bill. It is, simply put, the most effective and equitable way to expand access to clean energy, especially for communities that have historically borne the burden of fossil fuel pollution.

Governor Hochul knows that the benefits of community solar are more holistic than simply adding affordable renewable energy to the grid. The distributed nature of community solar lowers the overall costs to install more utility-scale solar and wind, and study after study shows that the benefits of community solar reach far beyond solar farm subscribers. In fact, program benefits extend to all energy users in the state — everyone who flips a light switch, plugs in an iPhone, or powers up an old record player.

Two years ago, New York State passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. This groundbreaking act requires at least 35% of renewable energy program benefits to be directed to disadvantaged communities. To live up to this standard, we need to ensure Governor Hochul’s new target includes concrete ways to ensure that disadvantaged communities benefit from the clean energy transition.

That’s why I am asking Governor Hochul to support a subgoal ensuring that at least 6 GW of the 10 GW goal be reserved for the Community Distributed Generation (CDG) program. Unlike New York’s other community solar programs, CDG is specifically designed to serve residential customers. The CDG program explicitly requires that 60% of each participating project be reserved for small customers — think houses and apartments. No other program has such a requirement. Simply put, CDG is New York’s only distributed solar program equipped to serve residential populations and capable of directing at least 35% of the program’s benefits to disadvantaged communities.

While New York officials and stakeholders work to expand renewable energy and community solar development in the state, necessary targets, program requirements, and incentives need to be in place to ensure all New Yorkers can participate in the clean energy transition. We respectfully ask Governor Hochul to continue her bold climate leadership by setting a 6 GW sub-target for CDG to make sure energy policies work for all New Yorkers.

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James Feinstein

James Feinstein is a Senior Policy Manager with Arcadia.

Washington, DC