A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Solar. Simple. Together. Solarize Harnesses Communities’ Energy

by John Wackman   

It’s not such an unusual sight anymore, driving along and noticing a house with solar panels on the roof. When did they go up? I wonder what they would look like on my house? Wonder if my roof gets enough sun for solar? (You’ve heard that something like half the houses in the Northeast don’t.) Who would you call? How long till it pays for itself? Incentives and tax credits? Buy or lease? All in all, daunting enough. Drive on.

Solarize programs grew in response to that feeling. One person deciding on their own to go solar can seem complicated. Solarize takes that quandary and reframes it as a community-wide campaign. It’s not just you figuring it out—it’s your neighbors and the neighborhoods across town and the next county over. 

For the next three years, Solarize Hudson Valley will be building a public-private partnership of towns and counties, community organizations and solar installation firms in six counties: Ulster, Orange, Rockland, and Sullivan west of the river; and Dutchess and Putnam to the east. The goal is to significantly increase the number of solar electric homes and businesses up and down the Hudson Valley. And, because it is a group initiative, Solarize offers everyone a group purchase discount.

Here’s how it works. In each town, one or two community organizations agree to take on Solarize as a project. In Kingston, it’s the Conservation Advisory Council. Local solar companies apply to become qualified partners. For the Kingston campaign that’s Hudson Solar (Rhinebeck), SOLARgeneration (Kingston), and New York State Solar Farm (Modena/Gardiner). 

Then the fun begins. This will be a summer of community events: solar workshops, solar home tours, a “live” solar installation and potluck. “Solar ambassadors”— neighbors who already have solar— will show up to tell you how it’s working out for them. There will even be an old-school telephone “Solar Help Line” run by Seth Leitman, editor of McGraw-Hill’s Green Living Guides. Each of these events is an opportunity to get your questions answered, meet your neighbors, and build our green economy community. 

Hugo Jules raises the emblematic sun at Forsyth Nature
Center in Kingston, NY. Photo by Gloria Waslyn.
The first campaign begins this month in the City of Kingston and runs into September. In July, it will expand to more Ulster County towns and Dutchess and Orange counties. Solarize simplifies the process while still offering options: buy or lease, roof or ground mount. All the necessary permitting is handled by your installer. It adds trust: selected installers are certified and their work is guaranteed. And it adds confidence: you are assured of getting high-quality components in your system. 

Solarize campaigns are not new. In fact, they’re currently running in the Finger Lakes, the Capital Region, and seven Southern Tier counties. In the Hudson Valley they’re spearheaded by Catskill Mountainkeeper and Sustainable Hudson Valley—nonprofits with long track records. 

How do you find out if solar electric makes sense for you?  Every home and business is different, and each roof requires its own assessment. And, by the way, it is generally true that fewer than half the homes in the Northeast get enough sun to be viable. Solarize Hudson Valley is a passport to finding out and getting your home evaluated, which costs nothing.

Solarize Hudson Valley is committed to expanding that envelope and reaching into neighborhoods where eliminating monthly electric bills will make a real difference. RUPCO, our own Hudson Valley affordable housing agency, is the expert in Green Jobs-Green New York loans, and they will be present at all Solarize events. They’ll also have full information about getting an energy audit for your home or business—because why get solar if your house is a heating and cooling sieve?

Gardiner Town Supervisor Carl Zatz recently told me, “The majority of applications for permits coming into the Gardiner Building Department are for solar projects.” And it is true, the solar installation firms in our region are pretty busy. But it is also true that fewer than one percent of all homes have solar electric. As an economist would say, the upside to this market is big. The Solarize Hudson Valley initiative, like all the others in New York, is supported by Community Solar NY—one of several state programs that will invest up to $1 billion through 2023 to transform New York’s solar industry. 

Imagine tracking the flow of electrons through your electric meter. Imagine inviting the sun to play that role in your life, season after season. For many households and businesses in the Hudson Valley, the time to go solar is now.

To contact John email jwackman@gmail.com.