Inclusive solar program to provide funding for community projects

The state of New York has launched the Inclusive Community Solar Adder program that will make $52.5 million available for community solar projects that support underserved New Yorkers and disadvantaged communities.

Projects funded through the program are expected to serve up to 50,000 low-to-moderate income households, affordable housing providers and facilities serving disadvantaged communities, which will receive energy savings from the renewable energy generated by community solar.

Administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the program provides an additional incentive for NY-Sun community solar projects that dedicate at least 20 percent of their project to low-to-moderate income households and disadvantaged communities. The program will increase access to community solar, help customers save at least 10 percent on their electric bills and reduce operating costs for affordable housing and nonprofits serving disadvantaged communities.

“As we build a more resilient grid, it’s of critical importance that we remove barriers and scale up access to clean, renewable energy resources for all New Yorkers,” said NYSERDA President and CEO Doreen Harris in a statement. “NYSERDA’s Inclusive Community Solar Adder program is unique in that it takes a two-pronged approach to increasing access to solar energy and cost savings by serving both families and affordable housing providers who support residents in disadvantaged communities.”

The program design was informed by a Request for Information issued by NYSERDA in December 2020, and by stakeholders who participated in a March 2021 webinar hosted by NYSERDA. Another webinar on the program will be held on July 28.

“The launch of the Inclusive Community Solar Adder program is a big step towards expanding the cost-savings and clean energy benefits of New York’s community solar program to low- and moderate-income residents,” said Coalition for Community Solar Access Northeast Regional Director Kaitlin Kelly O’Neill. “We are excited to see the hard work and commitment of NYSERDA resulting in a dedicated resource that further expands the accessibility of community solar projects for all the state’s energy consumers.”

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State achieves solar milestone

Three gigawatts of solar have been installed statewide, enough to power more than half a million homes, New York state officials said this week.

Since the launch of the NY-Sun initiative in 2011, solar has grown 2,100 percent statewide and declined in cost by 69% while fostering roughly 12,000 jobs statewide. When combined with the projects that are under development, the new milestone represents 95% of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal to install six gigawatts of solar by 2025, as mandated in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

“Solar energy is a key component in New York’s transition to a clean energy economy as we work to reduce harmful emissions across the board and address the dual challenges of fighting climate change and rebuilding stronger post-pandemic,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The success of NY-Sun demonstrates we are on track to meeting our nation-leading energy goals while stimulating green job growth and economic recovery in communities across the state as part of our comprehensive plan to reimagine New York following the pandemic.”

In 2020, New York ranked first in the nation in community solar installations and second for total installations. Last year was also the state’s most productive year for solar installations, with 549 megawatts of capacity installed, the majority of which was supported by NY-Sun incentives. New York’s policies have ensured solar reaches every county in the state with Long Island, Mid-Hudson, and the Capital Region with the most installed solar, officials noted.

“As someone who grew up near Lake Erie and saw first-hand the harmful effects caused by emissions from the local steel plant, creating a cleaner, greener future has always been a personal fight for me,” Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “By reaching the historic milestone of three gigawatts of solar installed in New York, we can now power more than a half-million homes with clean energy, while also creating good jobs and attracting further investment in our State’s green energy economy.”

In addition to the three gigawatts of distributed solar installed statewide, there are an additional 2.7 gigawatts of solar that have been awarded NY-Sun incentives and are now under development across the state. The projects are expected to come online in the next two years with enough capacity to power an additional 477,000 homes.

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Power Authority develops sustainability plan

The New York Power Authority last week said it has developed a five-year plan that establishes goals and strategies to achieve the state’s climate leadership goals through a comprehensive sustainability agenda.

Progress against NYPA’s Sustainability Plan will be measured with annual sustainability reports that will detail the organization’s progress as the Authority continues to lead New York State’s transition to a carbon-free, economically vibrant New York, the agency said.

“As we at the New York Power Authority take bold steps to lead our state’s transformation to a clean energy economy, we need to do so in a transparent way that informs our stakeholders about our business decisions and priorities while keeping our commitment to sustainability at the forefront,” said NYPA Chairman John Koelmel in a statement. “We will rely on clear policies, practices and controls to guide our sustainability efforts as we continue to provide clean, affordable electricity and energy services to our customers and reliable generation and transmission for all of New York.”

The 2021-2025 Sustainability Plan serves as a roadmap to deliver on a best-in-class sustainability strategy to meet the present and future needs of stakeholders and enhance long-term ESG performance, officials said. The plan outlines the steps NYPA and its subsidiary, the New York State Canal Corporation, are committed to taking to advance sustainability efforts across 15 environmental, social and governance (ESG) focus areas. The plan will evolve as the ESG initiatives advance to support VISION2030 implementation.

“By using an ESG framework to manage and measure NYPA’s sustainability commitments and successes, we will be able to share key milestones as we advance some of the nation’s most ambitious climate targets,” said NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones. “Everything we do as we embark on transforming our energy system for a clean energy future will be shaped by our sustainability strategy as we pursue decarbonization, foster economic growth and create an ESG blueprint for others to follow.”

Sustainability, measured through an ESG structure, is a foundational pillar of VISION2030, NYPA’s recently introduced strategic plan to help lead the state energy infrastructure’s transformation into a clean, reliable, resilient and affordable system over the next decade. NYPA will assess its business through the ESG framework, which guides long-term business investments and shows transparency and accountability.

The Sustainability Plan describes NYPA goals and strategies that have been identified for 15 key sustainability focus areas, in alignment with VISION2030, the CLCPA, state energy programs and executive orders and industry leading practices. The areas, ranging from renewable energy to employee development to risk management, are considered to have the greatest potential impact on NYPA’s business and to be of most importance to stakeholders, officials said. The plan has been developed with guidance and input from business units and department leaders across the organization, including Sustainability Advisory Council members, subject matter experts and other key stakeholders.

The report highlights NYPA’s sustainability commitments and accomplishments in 2020, including:

• Work toward a 2035 target for eliminating carbon emissions from NYPA’s small clean power plant portfolio, a significant step toward meeting the state goal of a carbon-free power system by 2040.
• The financing of hundreds of millions of dollars of customer energy efficiency and clean energy projects.
• Supporting 400,000 jobs across New York State through economic development programs.
• Supporting the development and engagement of a diverse workforce through a 10-Point Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan.
• Continuing to fund a $300 million Reimagine the Canals initiative to revitalize the Erie Canal corridor as a prime tourism and recreation destination.

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State launches clean transportation competition for underserved communities

New York state has launched a competition that will award up to $85 million to boost clean transportation.

The New York Clean Transportation Prizes program will feature three competitions for innovative global solutions to enhance clean transportation and mobility options and reduce harmful emissions statewide, with a focus on underserved communities.

The competitions include the Clean Neighborhoods Challenge, the Electric Mobility Challenge and the Electric Truck & Bus Challenge, with each running in two phases.

“Supporting pioneering clean transportation and mobility solutions is imperative in our fight against climate change and our goal of electrifying the transportation sector,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement this week. “This initiative helps to leverage forward-thinking strategies and enables clean transportation options in all communities to fight inequality. The competing teams will advance their most transformative ideas to lower carbon emissions, improve air quality, and create a lasting impact that benefits all New Yorkers.”

Applicants for the Clean Transportation Prizes competitions must register by July 22, 2021, to be eligible to submit proposals for the following Clean Transportation Prize competitions:

• Clean Neighborhoods Challenge – Up to three $10 million grand prizes will be awarded to projects that address air pollution reduction at scale in disadvantaged communities. The Clean Neighborhoods Challenge submission deadline is Aug. 24, 2021.
• Electric Mobility Challenge – Up to three $7 million grand prizes will be awarded to projects that demonstrate innovative safe and convenient electric mobility options that help to solve disadvantaged community transportation needs. Submission deadline is Aug. 25, 2021.
• Electric Truck & Bus Challenge – Up to three $8 million grand prizes will be awarded to projects that demonstrate electrified solutions to the deployment of medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles or their replacement through other electrified transportation modes. The Electric Truck & Bus Challenge submission deadline is Aug. 26, 2021.

“Sustainable clean transportation options both enhance the quality of life in underserved communities and also support access to jobs, essential services and other beneficial travel,” said President and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority Doreen M. Harris. “Under Gov. Cuomo’s leadership, the New York Clean Transportation Prizes program will engage global innovators, transportation experts and other stakeholders to build innovative, replicable solutions that increase transportation options while helping meet our state’s clean energy agenda.”

An independent pool of global experts will help the state assess applications and help guide the project selection process through different phases of the competition.

Under the first phase of the program, projects selected and located in one of the six New York State Investor-Owned Utility territories will be eligible to receive the following award package:
• A $100,000 planning grant
• Up to $50,000 in funding for community partners
• Up to $50,000 in-kind support from NYSERDA-provided expert consultants
• Additional support services for project management, community engagement and measurement and verification

Up to 15 projects within the IOU territories could be awarded funding during the first phase, and proposals will be selected by winter 2021-2022. Final proposals will be submitted by spring 2022 as part of the second phase and grand prizes to be selected in summer 2022.

“Our industry welcomes New York’s three clean transportation competitions. By harnessing innovation and their competitive spirit, companies can show that while you are reducing pollution from transportation you can also provide cleaner air and better transit options to New York’s neighborhoods, and find creative ways to move freight or people,” said Executive Director of the Alliance for Clean Energy Anne Reynolds. “We are excited to see the winning innovations that result.”

The transportation sector is responsible for the largest contribution to greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S., with these emissions increasing more than any other sector over the last 30 years. Announced in July 2020 under the $701 Make Ready Initiative to advance electric vehicle infrastructure, the Clean Transportation Prizes program accelerates the transition to cleaner mobility through planning grants and community outreach and engagement resources to help identify ways to overcome persistent transportation challenges, including those faced by disadvantaged communities.

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EBP energy supplier acquired

The district energy system that serves more than 100 commercial and industrial customers and 5,500 employees at Eastman Business Park has been acquired for $260 million.

Ironclad Energy Partners LLC, an affiliate of Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners, has agreed to sell 100 percent of its indirect equity interests in RED-Rochester LLC and affiliates to SDCL Energy Efficiency Income Trust (SEEIT) plc.

RED is one of the nation’s largest district energy systems and it has continuously served the 1,200-acre EBP and its customers with their utility needs for more than a century. RED serves customers with its efficient and environmentally friendly tri-generation plant, delivering 16 different utility services including steam, chilled water, electricity and more.

“As a New York-based asset manager, Stonepeak is pleased to have had the opportunity to support a successful transition of the RED assets and to meaningfully contribute to the ongoing revitalization of the Finger Lakes Region of New York,” said Stonepeak Senior Managing Director Luke Taylor in a statement. “We are confident that the new owners will continue our efforts to drive environmentally-conscious growth within the Eastman Business Park.”

Upon acquisition in 2016, Stonepeak and Ironclad committed roughly $80 million of additional capital to execute on the conversion of RED’s coal-fired central plant to modern natural gas boilers. The brownfield project was delivered in 18 months, on time and on budget and without disruption to customers, officials noted. Following the completion of the natural gas conversion, Stonepeak and Ironclad committed additional capital to further modernize RED’s facilities, completing more than 40 efficiency projects during the four-year ownership period, and identifying more than 100 additional projects for future execution.

Through executed and identified projects, RED is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions within EBP by the equivalent of an 880MW photovoltaic solar installation and will reduce sulfur dioxide and NOx emissions by roughly 99 percent and 60 percent, respectively. SDCL expects to continue the modernization and efficiency efforts under its ownership, which are expected to continue delivering both increased profitability and emissions savings via fuel usage reduction.

“SEEIT is acquiring an operational and established district energy system that provides a range of essential and efficient energy services and utilities to a diversified customer base on one of the largest business parks in the United States of America,” said Jonathan Maxwell, founding partner and CEO of SDCL. “We expect the project to make positive contributions to SEEIT’s earnings and cash flow. At the same time, the project offers the potential for growth over the medium to long term through the addition of new customers and the implementation of accretive energy efficiency measures.”

The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021, following receipt of customary regulatory approvals.

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GCEDC to consider six projects for incentives

The Genesee County Economic Development Center board of directors will consider six projects for incentives at its May 25 meeting.

In addition to considering final approval of incentives for Plug Power Inc.’s proposed $232.7 million green energy technology facility at Western New York Science & Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park, projects totaling another $420 million of capital investment in Genesee County will be considered.

Plug Power’s facility would create roughly 68 new jobs initially at an average starting salary of some $70,000, and contribute roughly $2.3 million annually to support local municipalities and infrastructure development under a 20-year agreement.

The GCEDC board also will consider final approval of applications for incentives for three community solar projects:
• Forefront Power LLC (Elba Solar) is proposing to invest $9.7 million in a community solar project on Norton Road in the town of Elba. The project will produce 5MW of power and will generate roughly $518,803 in new revenue to Genesee County, the town of Elba and the Elba Central School District over the proposed 15-year agreement.
• Solar Liberty is proposing to invest $7.7 million in two community solar projects on Tesnow Road in the town of Pembroke. The projects will generate 4MW and 5MW of power and will generate roughly $856,024 in new revenue to Genesee County, the town of Pembroke and the Akron Central School District over the proposed 15-year agreement.

Additionally, the GCEDC board will consider accepting initial applications for two other projects:
• Excelsior Energy LLC is proposing to invest more than $345 million in a utility-scale solar project on multiple properties in the town of Byron. The project will generate 280 MW of power. Excelsior has negotiated a 20-year tax and community host agreements, including payments of $6,500 per MW, with a 2 percent annual escalator, to Genesee County, the town of Byron and the Byron Bergen School District.
• DePaul Special Needs Apartments L.P. is proposing to invest $3.75 million to expand by 20 living units an existing special needs housing campus in the city of Batavia. The project would increase annual payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) payments by roughly $6,000 per year for the remainder of the facility’s existing PILOT schedule.

GCEDC is the primary economic development agency in Genesee County. The GCEDC’s mission is to provide the resources to foster community economic success and facilitate new business attraction in order to build a sustainable long-term economy.

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Rochester Regional Health one step closer to clean energy goal

Rochester Regional Health expects to save more than $220,000 a year through a community solar program with Nexamp. The program will support the expansion of clean energy resources at Rochester Regional Health’s facilities while also sharing the benefits with the community.

RRH has set a goal of sourcing all of its electricity through renewable sources by 2025. The organization is combining community solar with its own on-site solar, energy efficiency measures and other initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint.

“We know that hospitals and clinics use much more energy than a typical business, and we have made a conscious decision to manage our resources carefully so that we can ensure a healthy environment and create a more sustainable community,” said Mike Waller, director of sustainability for RRH. “The ability to complement our on-site solar with a community solar agreement gives us the opportunity to offset energy usage at our many sites across the region, while also providing a green energy option for our neighbors.”

Nexamp operates dozens of community solar farms across New York state. As an anchor off-taker, Rochester Regional Health will receive a larger portion of the credit from each project, with individual residential subscribers taking the rest.

“The community solar program in New York makes it possible to increase the generation of clean energy and share those benefits with both business and residents,” said David Wells, director of community solar in New York for Nexamp. “We are focused on helping all energy users achieve sustainability and cost savings in parallel. Distributed generation of clean solar energy from the sun is meeting the needs of communities and is an important step in the de-carbonization of our society moving forward.”

Initially, Rochester Regional Health will receive credit for 9.7 MW from five projects located in Rochester Gas & Electric, National Grid and New York State Electric and Gas service territories. The clean energy generated at these projects is fed directly to the local utility grid and Rochester Regional Health receives credit for the value of that energy on its regular electric bills, helping to lower its costs while offsetting its use of electricity from traditional sources.

Three community solar farms in Spencerport will provide solar credits to Rochester General Hospital, Unity Hospital and St. Mary’s Campus. A community solar farm in Lockport will provide solar credits to United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia and a community solar farm in Ghent, Columbia County, will provide solar credits to Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic and Newark-Wayne Community Hospital.

Officials noted that with no up-front investment, long-term commitment or equipment to install, community solar is equally accessible to all homeowners or renters, independent of income or credit history. For businesses such as hospitals, manufacturers, retailers and others, community solar is ideal because it can be used on its own or paired with on-site solar generation to further reduce environmental impact.

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NYSERDA teams with utilities on energy efficiency for low-income residents

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will team with the state’s investor-owned utilities on a new framework to increase access to energy efficiency and clean energy solutions for low- to moderate-income households and affordable multifamily buildings.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the initiative last week, noting that the collaboration and investments made as part of the initiative will result in cleaner and healthier indoor air and more affordable energy options for more than 350,000 low- to moderate-income (LMI) households statewide.

The framework, submitted to the state Department of Public Service, will more than double the number of low-income households and multifamily buildings receiving energy efficiency services such as insulation, air sealing, electric load reduction and HVAC improvements annually, as well as increase outreach, education and community-based support programs for energy efficiency improvements.

“As we continue our fight against climate change, we must ensure that all New Yorkers have access to clean energy and are not left behind in the transition to a green economy, particularly those in our most vulnerable communities who most directly feel the harmful impacts of climate change and environmental degradation,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This groundbreaking public-private partnership is a smart and innovative approach that will bring affordable, clean energy solutions directly into the homes of those who need them most, and make the lives of all New Yorkers safer and healthier.”

LMI households are disproportionately impacted by energy costs, with many experiencing an annual energy burden exceeding 20 percent of their household income.

The statewide framework will invest nearly $1 billion through 2025 to advance energy efficiency in the LMI market segment including:
• More than $300 million to reduce energy burdens by increasing access to energy efficiency for LMI homeowners and renters;
• More than $500 million to improve energy efficiency in affordable multifamily buildings;
• $45 million for community-level engagement and capacity building with community-based organizations; and
• $30 million for developing clean heating and cooling solutions for LMI homes and buildings through research and analysis of institutional barriers and funding of pilots and demonstrations.

The framework filed July 27 includes a substantial increase in funding for low- to moderate-income energy efficiency and outlines a comprehensive strategy between NYSERDA and the state’s investor-owned utility companies including Central Hudson, Con Edison, National Fuel Gas, National Grid, New York State Electric & Gas/Rochester Gas & Electric and Orange & Rockland, with expanded funding in 2020 and new and modified programs beginning next year.

The new initiatives are expected to increase market demand and create new opportunities for clean energy workers. Through the Clean Energy Fund, NYSERDA will offer a range of workforce development and training opportunities.

Statewide, 3.2 million households, or 40 percent of residents, qualify as LMI, with incomes at or below 80 percent of their area’s median income. Buildings account for 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from fuel combustion and electric generation in the state, officials noted.

NYSERDA also is offering $10 million in funding through Green Jobs – Green New York to support a Loan Loss Reserve Program prioritizing lending to support green jobs and lending for energy efficiency and renewable energy in communities across the state. The pilot program will have a direct benefit to underserved borrowers by reducing the risk for community-based Financial institutions that loan money for energy efficiency improvements installed in residential and multifamily buildings, as well as in buildings used by small businesses and not-for-profits.

“Today’s announcement marks an important progression in a series of actions the state is taking to ensure no New Yorker, regardless of income, is denied access to energy efficiency services that provide more comfortable, clean and healthy living environments,” said NYSERDA Acting President and CEO Doreen Harris. “Our investment underscores the laser focus we have in advancing New York’s just and equitable transition to a carbon-neutral economy under Gov. Cuomo’s leadership.”

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Avangrid companies file energy plan

New York State Electric & Gas Corp. and Rochester Gas & Electric Corp. have filed their 2020 Distributed System Implementation Plan, the Avangrid Inc. subsidiaries’ strategy to integrate distributed energy resources (DER) into the New York grid.

The plan outlines the framework for how the companies will support New York state energy and decarbonization goals by building integrated planning and interconnection, grid operations and market services functions.

“The electric power industry is in the midst of unprecedented change, enabled by innovation and advances in emerging clean energy, power delivery, and information technologies,” said Rita King, senior director of Smart Grids Innovation and Planning at Avangrid. “The DSIP provides an actionable roadmap for our companies to support the decarbonization of New York’s economy, including the electrification of transportation and buildings, and will enable the integration of greater amounts of DER within our service areas. Our approach is customer-centric, clean, integrated and smart.”

The five-year implementation plan involves investments in several key areas, including grid automation, energy storage, electric vehicles (EV), smart meter (advanced metering infrastructure) implementation and market services.

Within those areas, the utilities plan to:
• Make significant progress in implementing a long-term grid automation program to improve the responsiveness, reliability, and efficiency of the distribution system. Investments will be made in grid devices that measure, monitor and control electric power flows along the network;
• Proactively support the identification and development of energy storage projects that benefit customers and the grid and are attractive to developers;
• Support the development of the EV market within its service territories through continued development of capabilities, including integrating EV load while minimizing the impact on peak demand, supporting EV growth with sufficient charging infrastructure while understanding impact and needs on the system. As part of the recent rate case settlement filing, the companies proposed and are preparing to implement a comprehensive EV Program that would accelerate EV adoption throughout its service territories;
• Deploy smart meters, planned to begin in the spring of 2022, after approval of the recent rate case settlement filing. Smart meters will help customers manage their energy usage, and support time-varying pricing and innovative rate structures; and
• Develop an online marketplace. The platform will empower customers to make better energy management decisions by connecting them to pricing options and programs, as well as to products and services offered by competitive suppliers.

In June, after months of negotiations, NYSEG and RG&E agreed to a slate of gas reduction strategies, retracted $128 million for gas infrastructure including pipelines and funded $1.5 million for renewable heating systems for low-income residents.

As part of the settlement agreement on the gas case, filed on June 22, environmental groups secured utility commitments to plan their systems around no growth in gas use and to offset new customers’ gas use through energy efficiency, heat pumps, and other non-gas alternatives. The companies also plan to study and possibly implement district geothermal pilots. The companies further agreed to end their oil-to-gas conversion incentives in favor of approximately $1.5 million for low-income renewable heating rebates.

“We celebrate the efforts of all the groups that worked together to achieve these precedent-setting concessions in the gas rate cases,” said Jessica Azulay, executive director of Alliance for a Green Economy. “Most of the organizations who worked together to win this agreement had never been involved in a rate case before, but together we successfully went toe-to-toe with a multi-billion-dollar multinational corporation to advance our renewable energy transition.”

As part of the settlement, RG&E average residential bills will rise over the next three years to $100 more per year than before the rate case started, based on an increase of 15.5 percent in delivery rates, environmental organization officials noted.

“The transition to a clean energy future must be affordable for all New Yorkers to be sustainable,” said Kristen Van Hooreweghe, project manager for Rochester People’s Climate Coalition. “The gas case settlement, even with its environmental initiatives, has nominal rate increases. Conversely, the companies and Gov. Cuomo’s Department of Public Service failed to develop a rate plan on the electric case that adequately addresses the disproportionate energy burden facing our low-income community members, especially during the current COVID pandemic.”

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State and private colleges reach agreement on clean energy campaign

New York State and private colleges are linking arms to support cleaner energy.

The state announced on Tuesday a memorandum of understanding between the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, representing 100 institutions.

“Private colleges in New York are already at the forefront of research and development related to climate change and energy efficiency so we are excited to bring our expertise together with NYSERDA’s in this unique partnership,” said Mary Beth Labate, president of the CICU. “There is no issue of greater urgency or magnitude facing our state and our nation than climate change. It is only by bringing public and private resources together to collaborate that we will make progress toward sustainable solutions.”

The memo says the state agency and college association will work together to

  • Establish an energy committee of CICU volunteers and others to identify energy issues and opportunities for member colleges and universities
  • Create an inventory of the commission members’ carbon emissions.
  • Release a webinar series of NYSERDA programming for member colleges and universities
  • Develop and pilot clean energy and energy efficiency programs for the higher education sector
  • Promote NYSERDA workforce development and training programs in the college market.

Alicia Barton, president and CEO of NYSERDA said, “This MOU is another major step forward in Governor Cuomo’s steadfast commitment to decarbonizing the grid and bringing clean energy solutions for all New Yorkers. Our collaborative partnership will help New York State remain at the forefront of the battle against climate change and ensure all colleges and universities and their students across the state have the opportunity to benefit from the energy transition.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has set a goal for the state of zero carbon emissions by 2040 as part of New York’s New Green Deal, aimed at creating jobs while battling climate change.

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Solar cell company gets $4M federal award to scale up

A local company that has been developing a solar panel that can produce more energy and be made more quickly has earned a $4 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy to scale up its technology and process.

Energy Materials Corp., a resident company in the Eastman Business Park, announced the award earlier this month. The company makes high-efficiency solar panels that use both sides to collect solar energy–direct sunlight on the topside and reflected light on the bottom. EMC also uses a roll-to-roll printing process that speeds up production.

“This is a scale-up process,” EMC President Stephan DeLuca said of the award. “We’re taking devices that have been made in the lab and scaling up for production.”

The award from the DOE’s Solar Energy Technology Office would cover three years of research and development work, DeLuca said. The project would result in about 10 additional employees; some would be at EMC’s offices in Rochester and others would be EMC employees working at DOE’s National Renewable Energy Labs in Golden, Colo.  The company also expects to double its lab space at Eastman Business Park, DeLuca said.

Though many of the specifics and timelines are still to be determined or can’t be shared right now, DeLuca said EMC eventually expects to produce 3 to 4 gigawatts of solar panels a year, representing three or four times the production promised by Tesla’s so-called gigafactory in Buffalo.

An advisor to the project, Dave Buemi, who holds the title of chief development officer for ECM but isn’t employed by the company yet, said, “For Rochester and the region, this is a completely new way to do solar module manufacturing that has significant advantages and can lead to large-scale employment. It’s a really nice turn of events for the solar industry and for the Rochester region.”

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Lasers in Rochester may fuel the world, reach for the universe

It’s hard to imagine that when lasers were first invented there was a bit of a “so what?” reaction.

In 1960, light was the main application people could envision from lasers and the question was why did we need a new source of light?

But today, laser research in Rochester is helping to determine where in the universe there might be life.

Michael Campbell, director of the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, explains that much of the research done at the lab focuses on what happens to matter under extreme conditions.

“Most of the universe is in extreme conditions,” he said.  By firing the laser at molecules in an attempt to create fusion in a lab setting, scientists begin to understand more about what’s happening to molecules elsewhere in the universe. And depending on which molecules and how they interact, they could be the ones to support life.

All this comes from the ongoing main mission at LLE, which is to harness fusion to create a clean source of energy. Scientists including Campbell are reluctant to make predictions about when fusion will finally be reached in a controllable way to produce commercial energy. They don’t want to fall into the trap that “cold fusion,” a different technology, fell into when it failed to materialize as promised.

Nevertheless, Campbell predicted fusion will be reached in about a decade.

“We will demonstrate that we can light the fire,” Campbell said, which is just the beginning.

Ignition at LLE will be a breakthrough on the order of human flight – the one the Wright brothers succeeded in at Kitty Hawk in 1903, Campbell said.  It took another dozen years or so for some militaries in Europe to adopt flight for use in World War I. Then another 20 years passed before planes were used more extensively to fight in World War II.  Finally, another 15 years went by before commercial travel by air became routine.

“Fusion is really hard, but in the end, it will power the planet,” Campbell said. “The energy crisis goes away.” And it will power the planet as long as people exist, he added. His confidence is rooted in the fact that fusion is nature’s way of making energy, he said, (i.e., the sun). But it’s hard for us to replicate nature. “Nothing that impactful is easy.”

About 60 percent of research at LLE is actually done by visiting scientists who bring their laser experiments to Rochester. They hail from the federal government, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and other centers for scientific advancement. What they discover sometimes is a byproduct of what they were looking for.

“We do science, but in the process of doing science, we find technology,” Campbell said.  For instance, developing smaller and smaller wavelengths for lasers has been useful in making smaller and smaller computer circuitry. As smaller integrated computer circuits became available, the capacity of the computers increased, while their size decreased. The fastest computers in 1985, Campbell noted, had a fraction of the capacity contained in the smartphones many of us carry in our pockets.

“You start out doing science, but people find ways to use things that you’d never imagine,” he said.

LLE, with an annual budget of $80 million, employs 350 people and keeps 140 graduate students busy too. About one third of those graduate students go on to jobs in the industry, another third end up working at laser research centers such as the national laboratories, and one third go into academia, Campbell said.

Donna Strickland won the Nobel Prize for Physics for work she did as a graduate student at the University of Rochester. (Photo by Peter Lee, Waterloo Region Record)
Donna Strickland won the Nobel Prize for Physics for work she did as a graduate student at the University of Rochester. (Photo by Peter Lee, Waterloo Region Record)

One of those students was Donna Strickland, who is now a professor at the University at Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada. As a graduate student at UR in the late 1980s, Strickland and her adviser, Gérard Mourou, were using the same laser technology that’s been used to operate on nearsighted eyes and create super-strong Gorilla glass. They developed a way to amplify the strength of laser impulses in a way that allowed the development of table-top lasers. Strickland and Mourou shared in a Nobel Prize in Physics a few months ago based on this work that she featured in her graduate thesis.

“The Nobel gives us a reputation for quality,” Campbell said. More work at LLE, attracted by the attention to its former student and former professor winning the prize, will mean more work generally in Rochester. Several local companies, including Sydor Technologies and Optimax Systems Inc., may benefit as a result.

Sydor manufactures products that are necessary for firing and assessing the laser at the lab and has gone on to make such products for places like the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and similar facilities in the United Kingdom and France.

“We transfer technology from the LLE and commercialize it into products that can be sold to customers around the world,” said Michael Pavia, president and CEO at Sydor.

Not all laser research in Rochester happens at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics. Last week, a joint project of scientists at UR and Rochester Institute of Technology won attention from the publication Physics World.  They’re working on a phonon laser, which amplifies sound instead of light and have developed a technique to increase and focus oscillation of suspended nanoparticles.

According to lead scientist Nick Vamivakas at UR, the work could advance precision measuring, which is key in the use and manufacture of optics. By the way, Vamivakas’ team is building on the work of American physicist Arthur Ashkin, who was the third person to share the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics.

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Two Rochester universities win $1 million each in energy conservation contest

Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester both won $1 million grants in a statewide college competition to develop energy saving and sustainability projects.

Suffolk County Community College on Long Island won the third prize offered in the Energy to Lead Competition, which is part of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s REV Campus Challenge.

Colleges were tasked with coming up with projects that would help meet Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s climate change goals for reducing greenhouse gases and moving to renewable energy resources, while also reducing energy demands.

“This is about sustainable campuses,” said Patrick O’Shei, director of market development at the New York Energy Research and Development Authority. “This is about curriculum and research.”

The three projects were:

  • A program to adjust ventilation in rooms in RIT’s Golisano Sustainability Institute so that they reflect the number of people in the rooms, factoring in peak usage data and saving energy. The program will be shared with Monroe Community College and other RIT buildings, and used to teach students in sustainability and building maintenance, said RIT President David Munson. Some of the cost savings will be used to encourage other sustainability projects by students and faculty, he said.
  • UR will construct a four-story building with a near-net zero use of energy, employing a new solar array on the campus and energy storage technology in the building. The building’s energy solar system will be replicable for use elsewhere, said Wendi Heinzelman, dean of UR’s Hajiim School of Engineering and Applied Science. She said the solar array will be built in 2019 to add to UR’s energy profile and the building is expected to be completed in 2020.
  • The Long Island community college will also build a net-zero building, the first in Suffolk County and on a State University of New York campus, said W. Troy Tucker, associate dean of sponsored programs at SCCC.

O’Shei said such competitions aren’t just about saving energy; they also boost the economy, provide incentives for new ways to learn, and engage both students and the community.

The three schools were selected from more than 30 participating colleges.

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Rochester area companies dominate 76West clean energy contest

Five Rochester-area companies are among the 20 finalists in the 76West Clean Energy Competition, vying for $2.5 million in prize money.

New York State Energy Research and Development Agency announced the finalists today (Friday, June 29).

The five were among 152 applicants from more than 12 countries and 27 states. As part of the competition, finalists will be paired with mentors and then pitch their companies to a panel of judges in  the next round of the competition at Cornell University July 31 to Aug. 1.

The five local companies are:

  • Crystal Creek Organics, a Rochester-area startup that extracts value-added products, such as fertilizer, from waste streams.
  • EkoStinger, an East Rochester company that makes attachments for the underside of tractor trailers that cuts fuel consumption, stabilizes the trailers and reduces road spray.
  • Molecular Glasses, a Rochester company that has created semiconductor materials to move ahead organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology.
  • Tyll Solar, a Henrietta startup focusing on research and development of solar technology.
  • WexEnergy, a Rochester company that makes skins mounted on windows to make them more energy efficient without the cost of replacing windows.

Prizes of $250,000, $500,000 or $1 million are awarded to each of the top six competitors. Winners must either move to the Southern Tier or establish a direct connection with an entity in that area in the form of a supply chain or other jobs-creating effort. The competition is linked to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Southern Tier Soaring initiative to promote economic development in that area.

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Meeting energy needs is key to economic development says State of the Region panel

Get a grip on energy supply and transmission and you can put out a much better welcome mat for business development.

That was the primary message speakers drove home at the State of the Region breakfast June 19 sponsored by Phillips Lytle, LLP, and hosted by Rochester Business Journal. The breakfast for more than 100 people at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center focused on how energy infrastructure relates to economic development.

“If you have a good handle on energy, you have a good handle on business,” summed up John Bay, president and CEO of Acadia Energy, a Rochester company that specializes in creating microgrids – small energy networks that can operate separately from or in tandem with the larger power grid.

When companies shop around for locations to site new facilities, they typically want high-quality power and low costs and they want it yesterday, several speakers said.  Experts in economic development said being unable to meet those demands could cause sites in Western New York to lose projects to other states.

“Duke Energy, Georgia Power will provide power substations,” as part of an incentives package to get a company to locate in their service areas, said Matt Hurlbutt, president and CEO of Greater Rochester Enterprise. Currently that’s not done in this area.

To buttress the idea of what’s at stake, Steven Hyde, president and CEO of Genesee County Economic Development Center, described two recent projects that got away from Genesee County. One project fell apart when funding from the federal Department of Energy couldn’t be finalized on the timeline the company needed. Another company needed 5.4 million square feet and 360 megawatts of power.

“We could site all that at STAMP,” Hyde said, referring to Genesee County’s Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park. New solar tariffs played a role in discouraging the company to land, he said. President Donald Trump recently added tariffs on imports of foreign solar panels, which until now has been the majority of what’s installed in the United States.

Both Hyde and Bay said energy regulations aren’t keeping up with the state’s goals for creating more power, using more renewable sources of power.

“We need to lock arms and work on this,” Hyde said. One example of a cumbersome regulation is the one that requires each company to have its own substation, Hyde said, which both slows down development and is wasteful because one substation could serve more than one manufacturer.

While many of the panel members’ comments focused on obstacles keeping power resources from being readily available, they also described opportunities and initiatives for improving the situation.

For instance, Bradley Jones, president and CEO of New York Independent System Operator, the organization that operates the state’s  power grid, said 17,000 more megawatts is needed to meet Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s goal of meeting 50 percent of the state’s needs with renewable energy by 2030. And most of that would be sited in Western New York or the North County due to available land or wind resources.

“That’s a lot of power, a lot of opportunity,” Jones said. But to make use of those resources, the state needs to add transmission and improve west to east power transfer. When Jones started at NYISO, the state hadn’t added onto its transmission lines since the 1980s.  More recently the state, under federal order, has started improving transmission in the Niagara Falls area to more fully use the waterfalls’ potential, and in the downstate area to better deliver electricity to New York City.

Jones said progress also is being made in storage of energy: “We are setting the pace like no other state in the union.”  Storage is key because while usage fluctuates during the day, it’s impossible to turn off most power plants at night and much of the energy they produce at certain times of the day is simply wasted unless it can be stored.

The state is planning to invest $200 million in energy storage projects, including batteries, thermal storage and pumped hydro – using waste energy to fill reservoirs at night, and draining them to run power turbines during peak usage hours.

Dennis Elsenbeck, head of Energy and Sustainability for Phillips Lytle Energy Consulting Services, agreed with Jones about transmission: “You actually have to distribute. It’s not just about supply and demand.”
Still, he said communities need to do more to meet the demands of the companies they’re trying to woo with shovel-ready development sites. “Shovel-ready does not mean energy-ready and that’s what we really need to work on,” Elsenbeck said.

Added Hyde: “We need big transmission capacity to really build big job opportunities.”

Joseph Rizzo, manager of economic development for New York State Electric & Gas and Rochester Gas & Electric, said economic developers should involve the power companies as soon as possible in the discussions of potential new developments.

“It’s very crucial we receive complete and accurate load information from active projects,” he said. Site locators who scout locations for companies always want to know about existing infrastructure, what might be involved in meeting the company’s power needs, and the cost, he said.

“We are unable to install infrastructure in anticipation of a project,” Rizzo said, but sharing key information early helps the utility act more nimbly.

Robert Duffy, president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, said the power company is already involved; “RG&E is at the table, time and again when we negotiate.”

Duffy suggested New York needs more ammunition to compete against other states trying to lure projects within their borders.

“We have lots of incentives, tax incentives … We should look at power incentives,” he said.

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