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Community Solar Info Session: Transcript and Video

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Information Session:
Community Solar and the Solar Project in Franklin County, New York

Greg Rossetti, Head of Origination, OYA Solar
Colleen Mulhern, Inside Sales Manager, OYA Solar
Rob Crauderueff, CEO, Crauderueff Solar

The Franklin County solar project (State Route 122A) is the first OYA Renewables project to begin construction out of 17 community solar projects in New York State. We talked with guests about the benefits, challenges, and importance of enrolling in a project. The largest impact is that local subscribers save up to 10% annually on their electricity costs and pay no fees to enroll in the community solar project.

We think that one way to support the generation of clean, renewable energy in New York State is to ensure more people have access to it. Community solar programs address a gap in solar access for those who cannot install a solar system.

The below Q&A period was transcribed from the second half of our Information Session.

Question & Answer Period*

How do you reconcile the fact that you take away a certain amount of forested land, which is already a carbon sink, and replace it with solar panels?

There are several studies out there on CO2 offsets with respect to solar farms and what they represent versus the carbon sink that mature trees provide. What you’ll see is a significant benefit, from a carbon offset perspective, over the lifetime of these solar projects. On a related note, quite often, I have landowners that are excited about clearing their logged land. Because for us to install the solar facility, we must clear-end groups or D-stumps. After the end of the 25-year lease, we have left the farmer with arable farmland that was not there before solar arrived. Also, if you look at the cost to clear and grub an acre of land, it is extremely cost-prohibitive.

Can you go over the subscription process one more time?

The first step to the subscription process is just making sure that you are in NYSEG territory and that this is the right project for you to subscribe. Then, we will look at your electric bills, look at how much you are spending per year, and how many kilowatt-hours you are using on an annualized basis. That will tell us how many bill credits we can allocate towards your account. We will then run the numbers and provide a demonstration of what you can expect for the first year as well as over the course of the first 25 years. Doing this gives you a tangible understanding of what the savings are. Lastly, there’s a subscription agreement to formalize entering into a contract with OYA Solar that will ensure that you’re going to get those 10% savings and that those savings are guaranteed over the lifetime of the project.

Do the bill credits apply to the energy portion of the bill or can it be used to offset distribution charges?

The credit is applied to all components of the bill, it’s not necessarily just the delivery or the supply. We make sure the subscriber is saving 10% off when it comes to the bill credit.

How does it work if you get energy supplied from a third-party supplier; can you still sign up for community solar?

Yes, you can sign up for community solar. However, what needs to happen first, is the third-party supply bill needs to be placed on your utility bill, which can happen with a simple phone call to your third-party supplier. You want to do this to make sure that everything shows up on your NYSEG or National Grid bill. Essentially, there’s an accounting process with the utility that shows how much you are spending each month on electricity, and how many kilowatt-hours you are using. As long as your third-party supply bill is being processed through your utility, then there’s no issue and you can still get savings off of the share of your bill that is not through your third-party supplier. However, there’s really no reason to go that route because with a couple of phone calls you can make sure you’re getting that full bill offset.

From what you are saying, distribution costs are handled under this evaluation of the bill?

Yes, that is correct. All charges are considered when determining allocation to a solar project.

Can you address the issue of visual screening around solar projects?

A common concern about solar facilities are visual screening impacts on the scenery. Therefore, a common aspect of developing solar facilities with respect to the permitting site plan approval is visual screening, whereby we might do slatted fences, arborvitae, or other types of vegetative screening depending on the lay of the land.

Say the owner of a large property wants to subdivide his/her property down the road. How is that handled for future renters or property owners compared to the first property owner that all this was assigned to?

Those types of things typically would be contemplated at the very early stages. The reason I say that is if you have a parcel that is 50 acres, and the installation of the solar facility in the local laws requires offsets, a box inside here, and setbacks there. Then, you need to position that 30 or 35-acre solar field on a 40 or 43-acre parcel to make it all work and satisfy the various ordinances and laws. In the case where there’s a large parcel, let’s say a 100-150 acre parcel, and we are made aware that the owner wants to at some point carve out 15 acres for their kids, we are able to accommodate that in the lease. We would draw a bit of a sandbox into the existing parcel and reserve that space on that land. As it relates to the notion, that it’s going to be subdivided at some point down the road.

With regards to transmission lines and future capacity and needs, do you work with NYSEG or National Grid, or is that their end and you work just on availability?

There’s limited information for solar developers with respect to available capacity in the distribution lines – the distribution lines being lines that run along the roadways and not the high tower transmission lines that run through the countryside. I mentioned there’s some information published by NYSEG and National Grid, which is what we usually use as a bit of a first pass in evaluating the potential site. And then, ultimately, you have to get into a far more detailed study with the utility, and that’s a lengthy process. It’s typically anywhere from 68 months to arrive at what we describe as an interconnection agreement. An interconnection agreement lays out exactly how much power we’re allowed to put in at that location and what the costs are for us to be able to connect. That includes any substation upgrades or any other infrastructure upgrades.

Are batteries being considered for OYA Renewable’s projects?

Batteries are an interesting aspect of renewables that are being implemented in certain projects, but the current economics are still a little bit challenging. However, that’s changing just as solar did 10 years ago. Prices for the equipment and batteries are seeing a very similar type of reality with the cost coming down. Storage is certainly going to be a component of these types of facilities in the future and in projects like the Franklin County one, that’s already permitted and under construction. At some point should it makes sense to add the storage component to that project. Then, we would be going through an entirely new process with the town to ensure fire safety and identify any environmental impacts.

How can OYA Renewables power be invested here in Nigeria where electricity is lacking?

That’s a complex question since international solar projects, due to the financing, are treated differently than projects in New York – compared to Nigeria compared to the Caribbean. You’ve got different types of weather risks, you’ve got different types of country-related risks, and so it’s a little bit more complicated.

What effect do wetlands and floodplains have on solar?

Normally, we try to avoid flood plains as they are not all created equal, nor are wetlands. It really depends on the nature of those environmental resources. Depending on the height of the floodplain, you have a potential 100-year storm where you’re going to experience seven to 15 feet of water. That is different from a floodplain that might experience only six inches to one foot of water. You can account for those types of elevations through construction, but it also depends on the local laws and whether they allow you to construct on or near these areas. Technically, we can deal with constructability or engineering – it’s just a question of what the authorities in the jurisdiction say.

What are OYA Renewable’s plans for subscribers who have demands via municipal, religious, or institutional accounts?

All types of users can subscribe to our community solar programs. However, it’s important to note that there’s a limit of 40% of the total capacity that can be subscribed to demand-based accounts, and the remainder must be subscribed to mass market accounts like residential single-family or small multifamily homes. Some religious institutions and municipal accounts will qualify as mass markets, but there’s a little more complexity to it than that. In short, we’re looking to subscribe anyone with an electric account. There’s a basic, creditworthiness threshold but otherwise, we are opening up and subscribing locally to the extent possible for Franklin County.

Does your agreement in terms of what you discussed here apply only to Franklin County, or is there a model, and is it subject to different municipalities or counties that you’re working within other areas?

We use the same type of agreement for any potential subscriber we might have and only tweak the terms of the agreement to satisfy both the seller and purchaser. Overall, it generally has the same terms across the board.

What about post-costs in terms of returning the land to initial or original use?

We’re obligated to remediate, and we also post a certain amount of money in a bond through a third party financer (i.e. insurance company) that provides a policy to ensure that the funds are available in the future. The state agency NYSERDA has recommended guidelines for the cost of that forward-looking 25 and 40 years into the future. The reason you don’t see these types of bonds in many other jurisdictions is because if we installed and ran Monday I could get it removed on Tuesday for $0.00 and probably put money in my pocket (because everything in that array is effectively recyclable). The scrap metal guys would be drooling to get their hands on everything in that field.

The reason these bonds and decommissioning came up is that towns were concerned that at the end of its life, when the solar company went in to remove the facility, the landowner might say, “Well, why don’t you just leave it there. I’m going to play a part-time metal speculator, and I’m going to remove it in 10 years when the price of aluminum is that much more.” The towns at that point don’t want what used to be an operational facility that was maintained by a solar company to be an eyesore, so these towns started requiring these bonds to be in place without the right to remove them. It was far less about the landowners and more about that somebody would walk away from these types of projects, and these are some of the most attractive investments that the world can offer today. In fact, I couldn’t imagine a scenario where a solar company would walk away from an asset like this in the field, even in 25 or 40 years.

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