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By The White House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Solar Panels being installed on the Obama White House roof [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter made a rousing speech that coincided with his dedication of the solar panels on the White House roof. In that speech, Carter highlighted the goal of deriving 20% of all energy use in the United States from the sun by 2000. The precedent seemed to be set not only for a solar revolution, but also for a commitment to adjusting the American economy toward a sustainable path. Despite the prescient sentiments of President Carter, President Reagan would eventually arrive at the White House and strip those tree-hugging solar panels off, reverting to good ole’ American values.

Flash forward to today, and one begins to see the solar revolution coming back to the fore. In 2010, President Barak Obama re-installed solar panels on the White House roof, recognizing there is more at stake,  however — this time by absolute necessity. With the advent of solar energy taking shape around the world, the United States has re-committed to rapid solar energy production. While the sun-bathed states of California, Arizona and New Mexico, among others, have attracted a majority of the spotlight when it comes to solar energy, New York has remained just as committed to its development. Before this article goes on, however, we must debunk the fallacy that only scolding sunshiny states are viable solar energy consumers.

A quick look at Germany, the leading consumer of solar energy, shows us that it’s not exactly the Death Valley of Europe. Germany continues to outpace all countries in solar energy and has set a world record for solar power production with 37 gigawatts of installed solar capacity while achieving 28.5% of its domestic power demand from solar energy. Solar energy, as reflected in Germany’s example, is not hindered by fog or overcast days, in fact, it’s quite the contrary when it comes to a certain amount of fog (e.g. San Francisco). So, for those pessimistic about solar energy in the state of New York, this should serve as evidence of the potential impact of solar energy–especially when taking into consideration that the state of New York receives more sunshine annually than Germany.

Governor Cuomo–despite prevaricating on the fracking issue as long he is able to–has committed an unprecedented amount to solar energy in New York. In April, the Governor announced an additional commitment of $1 billion to NY’s Sun Initiative Program dedicated to increasing solar energy throughout the state. Cuomo added, ”Today we are making another long term investment in our clean energy economy-with nearly $100 million in funding that will dramatically increase our capacity to generate and utilize solar energy across the state.” Solar energy’s benefits in New York aren’t limited to sustainability either.

In a public debate that is flooded with assumptions that environmental initiatives are job killers, solar energy has proven those statements feeble at best. The expansion of solar energy has led to a rejuvenation of renewable energies in the economy and, in turn, enabled entrepreneurs to take advantage. Solar energy is cost effective, it eliminates the externalities of other unsustainable energy sources, requires little maintenance, and its cost benefit outcome  makes the energy source uncanny to its competitors.

Rutgers University, for example, implemented an extravagant 32 acre solar canopy project with a cost of over $40 million. The construction outcome was two-fold: One, it resulted in about $225,000 in electricity savings and $1.57 million in utility costs per year. Two, with the aid of government grants and incentives (state and federal), the project enabled Rutgers to effectively have zero net cost. The Rutgers example illuminates the impact solar energy can have educationally, financially, and sustainably.

So, how has our own state fared? Environment New York Research & Policy Center, a statewide non-profit watchdog for government action on sustainability, released its 2014 report showing a 30% increase in solar energy in New York. The report goes on to emphasize that ”it is not the availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have created effective public policy to help capture virtually unlimited and pollution free energy from the sun.”

In addition, the think tank Center for American Progress noted that prices for residential photovoltaic systems fell over 7%, and installation prices have ”declined in major residential markets.” New York’s significant progress and commitment to solar energy presence throughout the state doesn’t come without the consistent push of activists tapping into public fervor. As the Environment New York’s report echoes, it is public policy that has enabled for the advent of solar technology to take place.

This knowledge is essential as the Clinic goes forward developing a sustainable energy program for the Village of Ossining. However small a project may seem, these small projects are catalysts and instigators for the proliferation of future projects like it. New York, through projects and programs like the Sun Initiative, is quickly becoming a true solar energy state, and we strive to see this reputation as a reality.

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