End of “Net-Metering” Casts Shadow Over Future of New York Solar

On a bright August afternoon in Brooklyn, the sun beat down fiercely as New Yorkers scrambled for slivers of shade. Except for Shaugh Dolcy. The 43-year-old software developer proudly basked in the rays on the roof of his four-story building and showed off the brand-new solar rig that glistened brightly against the blue sky.

Dolcy’s wife, Tamara, chased their six-year-old son, Rhys, through the expanse of silver and black panels, some resting at a slant a few feet above the rooftop and others towering on 20-foot poles, creating an impressive metal canopy.

The solar project, which was installed in June, is now powering all eight apartments and the common areas in the building, an affordable-housing co-op. It has the potential to lower the residents’ electricity bills from over $100 a month to a mere $15, said Annabelle Heckler, another tenant.

“We’re all really excited about it,” she said. A sunny day turns their rooftop into a mini-power plant, and means less money goes to Con Edison.

Affordable-housing units aren’t generally the places you’d expect solar energy, as the cost of buying and installing the technology has associated it with eco-conscious suburbanites who have cash to burn. But low-income communities stand to benefit the most from the decrease in energy costs solar energy provides, said Stephan Roundtree, environmental policy and advocacy coordinator for WE ACT, an environmental justice organization in northern Manhattan. Electricity is the highest bill low-income residents in the neighborhood pay after rent, he said.

Installing community solar — a collection of panels used by multiple households — was a simple process under net metering, which enables tenants like Dolcy and Heckler to sell excess electricity their solar-energy system produces to utilities for credit on their bill. However, several states, including New York, have either ended it or weakened it, under political pressure from large utilities.

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