One of the marvelous things about community, French writer Jean Vanier once concluded, is that enables us to “welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals.”
Indeed, and to stretch Vanier’s wisdom somewhat, but not totally, out of context, the value of a community-based approach to the energy transition allows more to participate. Everyone, if they want, and not just the wealthy souls who can afford a Tesla or a home microgrid.
This is the driving force for Manish Nayar, founder and executive chairman of North American solar developer OYA Renewables. Nayar started his company years ago to convert Canadian incentives for clean energy into reality, and now is expanding that community solar vision through the U.S.
OYA Renewables is developing numerous community solar projects throughout New York. The Empire State is big on carbon reduction energy projects, and community solar contributes decarbonization benefits without the individual upfront costs of residential solar.
“If you can afford a Tesla, you can probably afford residential solar,” Nayar noted. “But community solar is really serving folks that are renters—that’s the majority of population in the U.S. It’s expands access to clean energy to those folks who don’t have to pay money out of pocket and can see savings on their first bill.”
Community solar is a smaller version of its utility-scale counterparts. Instead of the rate hikes that utility customers might have to pay for such investments, the developers handle community solar’s upfront costs, while residents can subscribe to the generation output of the project if they choose.
OYA has completed close to 38 MW of New York projects put into operation by the end of 2022. It also has numerous projects under construction with the idea of finishing 13 new community solar sites by end of the second quarter this year.
The company is certainly engaged in New York, but it also has developments underway across the continent, from Ontario to Minnesota to Miami. The degree of latitude, north or south, doesn’t really make too much of a difference in OYA’s planning schemes.
“Solar in Miami and in the Northeast U.S. produces almost the same amount of energy,” Nayar pointed out. “They do well in cold weather because the conversion of sunlight to energy is better. In cooler climates you get a more efficient conversion of energy.”
Nayar has chased better efficiencies in business ever since starting out with his family’s drive train and transmission components business in Windsor, Ontario. They manufacturing operation supplied parts to the Big Three automakers, and in fact Nayar is a passionate Detroit sports fan.
That kind of devotion rewards fans of the Stanley Cup perennial Red Wings back in the day, or requires persistent loyalty if it’s the once lowly but now upstart football Lions. OYA Renewables was created as a clean energy platform not only to follow incentives, but inspire loyalty both in employees and customers seeking ways to contribute to decarbonization work.
It may seem like governmental largesse, but in reality the community solar platform is relatively pure form of competitive capitalism at its best, according to the OYA founder.
“Community solar is decoupling who is the buyer from the process of developing the project,” Nayar said. “The state develops the framework, and every resident is a potential customer. The onus is on you to develop a product the customer wants to buy.”
These customers can be individual ratepayers doing so voluntarily, or businesses also seeking ways to contribute to the energy transition and gain credits for it.
One of those mass subscribers is the Geneva Housing Authority in New York, which supplies residences for lower income households. The GHA contracted with OYA to subscribe to the nearby, 6.8-MW State Route 122 solar farm owned and operated by OYA.
Overall, the housing authority’s subscription to 1.2 million kWh of carbon-free solar power will produce close to $9,000 in energy savings annually. Over 25 years, those savings could total nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
Such savings could come in pretty handy, especially for a non-profit and its residents.
Moving forward, Nayar sees long-term benefits from the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act with its incentives and tax credits for future projects in renewables, energy efficiency and e-mobility of the transportation sector.
The IRA, he added, is determined to start with the kind of projects which will connect the least wealthy with the not inexpensive clean energy transition.
“We’re doing the same,” he said. “We have a number of public sector customers, such as school boards, country boards. Once we sign up subscriptions, then we can provide them with EV charging solutions, on-site energy storage.”
OYA Renewables to also exploring a move toward geothermal projects. Geothermal is gaining a foothold, no pun intended, in various affordable housing development projects across New York.
The idea all around is attracting environmentally minded renters and homeowners of all stripes.
“We see ourselves at the center of that,” Nayar said.
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(Rod Walton, senior editor for EnergyTech, is a 15-year veteran of covering the energy industry both as a newspaper and trade journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]).
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