February 8, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Regarding Carbon Neutral Cornell by 2035

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To the Editor:

Cornell should not abandon its goal of becoming carbon neutral on a fast timetable. Innovations are happening — and will continue to happen — that may make it possible to arrive at carbon neutrality more quickly than expected.

Take, for example, community solar — also known as “remotely-sited” solar. Community solar was recently approved by New York State.

Community solar allows entities like Cornell to install solar arrays on farms rather than on their own rooftops (which are often poorly configured for solar panels).

The arrays on the farms are highly efficient because they can be built with an optimal orientation towards the sun. And the power produced by the farm-based arrays — the kilowatts per hour — can be credited to Cornell’s utility bills through the New York State Electric and Gas system. (NYSEG can count  kwhs produced on one part of its grid and credit them to an account somewhere else on its grid.)

This development opens up vastly greater opportunities for Cornell (and other entities) to shift its power sources toward renewables. The university is no longer limited to its own rooftops.

It also opens up opportunities for Cornell to fix the price of its electricity. The cost of building a solar array on a farm is fixed. The cost of leasing it and maintaining it is fixed. The cost of the kwhs produced, therefore, can be fixed, and often is effectively fixed, in arrangements called subleases or power purchase agreements that facilitate the creation of farm-based solar arrays.

And sometimes the fixed price of the solar-generated kwhs is actually lower than variable price of NYSEG kwhs. When this happens (and contracts can be structured to increase the likelihood of it happening), community solar will actually save Cornell money over time while helping it achieve carbon neutrality.

Don’t give up on this goal!

Don McNerney ’91

Renewable Energy Consultant

Ithaca, NY

College of Arts & Sciences

[email protected]