One of the largest solar farms in New York State is close to completion after less than three months of intensive work by hundreds of local contractors and workers.

Once connected to the NYSEG grid and energized, the project will supply enough electricity to operate over 2,000 average-sized homes in upstate New York.

To commemorate the completion and to honor town officials, contractors and workers, Solar Farms New York, the facility’s developer, plans a ceremonial groundbreaking at the site for 2 p.m. on Monday afternoon, September 23, at 5021 State Route 23 in Norwich.

“The Norwich farm will make a significant contribution in the state’s push to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2040,” said Jeffrey Mayer, CEO of the company that markets the project. “This could not have happened without the joint efforts of dozens of people and we wanted to honor them in person,” he added.

The Norwich facility covers 79 acres owned by the Evans family and consists of over 50,000 stationery panels on a slight rise that faces southwest.

Mr. Mayer explained that all NYSEG customers will receive more renewable energy as soon as the project is electrified. “Electrons go into the grid where they benefit all NYSEG customers,” he said, “But only our members who join the farms will get the monthly savings that the farms produce.”

He said that unlike rooftop solar any NYSEG customer can become a member whether they own or rent. “Only 10% or so of all households can take advantage of rooftop solar, but community solar is available to everybody.”

When connected to the NYSEG grid, the panels will produce about 20 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year and will offset at least 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year. Mayer reported that the solar panels offset 12 times as much carbon as an acre of mature trees would absorb in a year.

The Norwich project used local contractors for excavation and construction, including Burrell’s Excavating Inc. for the civil engineering company. Burrell’s is a family-owned business that is responsible for many street and road reconstruction projects in the region. KMC Sand & Gravel, a division of Burrell’s, supplied the gravel and stone material required to prepare access roads and drainage channels for the construction site.

Dan Zirbes, project manager for the project, said that the community solar project has been built on four contiguous farms owned by members of the Evans Family. The first two farms have already been sold out with households in Norwich and surrounding towns in Chenango County. The project was slated for completion in early 2020 but has been proceeding ahead of schedule.

Under New York’s community solar program, solar farms like the Norwich farm sell their electricity to NYSEG which then puts credits on customer bills. Instead of paying the utility for their electricity, customers pay Solar Farms New York.

Solar Farms New York will bill customers 95% of the value of the credits they receive from NYSEG, resulting in a 5% savings on their solar credits. Credits should start flowing over the next couple months, as soon as the farms are energized, Mayer said.

The community solar project will also benefit local governmental entities in the form of payments in lieu of property taxes. Approximately $1,415,000 will be paid to the Town of Norwich over the life of the project.

Mayer explained that NYSEG customers can sign up online at SolarFarmsNY.com or by calling the company at its Albany number, 833 877 7652.

Solar Farms New York is not an ESCO that supplies electricity, Mayer explained. “Many retail supply contracts have been criticized for being a ‘bait and switch,’” he said. “With our solar farms you will never pay anything until after you have received your NYSEG credits on your monthly bill.”

In New York State, households can buy their electricity from an ESCO and still join a solar farm. Utility solar credits offset both supply costs and delivery costs. “Community solar does not replace electricity supply contracts but rather provides guaranteed savings no matter who is the supplier,” Mayer said. “And we do it all with 100% New York sunshine.”

Mayer said that over 5,200 customers have signed up for some forty solar farms throughout New York State, with about 500 customers from the Norwich area alone.

Community solar farms are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the renewable energy industry. Integrating a single solar project into the utility rid requires less investment than hundreds of rooftop power plants.

In New York, membership in community solar farms is free and does not require a long term commitment in contrast to the 15-20 year contracts that are required for rooftop solar. In addition, because there is no penalty to cancelling there is no obstacle to moving or selling a home.

Mayer said that some members can save more money with community solar than with rooftop solar. “Rooftops are limited in size and so solar production often doesn’t offset more than 50% of a home’s energy needs,” Mayer said. “Community solar can offset up to 100% of a home’s energy usage.”

Kathryn Reed, a marketing representative of Solar Farms New York, will be available to answer questions about community solar and help residents enroll at a gathering following the groundbreaking at Norwich Town Hall, 157 County Road 32A. She encouraged residents to bring their utility bills in order to reserve their credits from the local farm.

As a Clean Energy Partner of Solar Farms New York, the Town of Norwich will receive a $100 contribution from the developer for each member who enrolls using the Town’s promo code or entering “Norwich” when joining online. Several Southern Tier towns have likewise become Clean Energy Partners including Dryden, Naples and Big Flats, along with a number of public libraries and senior housing groups in Clinton and Essex Counties.

Solar Farms New York has contributed over $50,000 to Clean Energy Partners over the past year and expects to double that amount by the end of the year. “We are delighted that we can help support the same communities that have supported clean energy,” said Solar Farms New York’s Katy Reed. “By supporting our solar farms our Clean Energy Partners help us save money on marketing costs and advertising and we are delighted to share the savings with them.”