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Considering Solar?

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature have made solar growth a priority in New York State by offering attractive incentive packages for individuals, businesses and utility scale solar providers.  In February, 2017, Governor Cuomo announced that state supported solar power in New York had increased nearly 800% from December, 2011 to December, 2016 with no end in sight.  This offers great opportunities to individuals and businesses in New York State.  However, as with any opportunity, there are potential pitfalls that you should be aware of.

If you are a landowner you may have already been approached by a solar company seeking out properties to lease for solar energy.  Local farm fields are an especially attractive option for these companies since they are usually already cleared and can be easily converted to a solar farm providing a farmer an opportunity to lease a small portion of her or his land to generate income to support farming on the remainder of the property.  If you have been approached, there are some questions you should be asking the prospective solar developer, including:

  • Provide local references – Make sure you are dealing with an experienced and reputable company.
  • What portion of my land is best for solar?
  • What, if any, restrictions will the solar company require on my remaining lands?
  • How long is the lease?
  • Who pays for taxes and improvements?
  • Who will be responsible for any real estate tax rollbacks, etc.?
  • Who maintains the land?
  • How do I insure the facilities are removed at the end of the lease?

As with any transaction, you should have individual representation to ensure that your particular issues are appropriately addressed before you sign on the dotted line.

If you are considering solar to serve your home or business, there are also several issues you want to consider, such as:

  1. Based upon your particular situation, is it better to purchase the solar system or lease your roof to the solar company? Ownership of the system will require an initial investment, but if you have the wherewithal to make that payment and can take advantage of the tax incentives, owning a system may have long term benefits.  If you want to take advantage of solar without any initial investment, leasing your roof to a reputable company may be the best choice.
  2. How do you choose the right company? Ask for references, shop around.
  3. Is my house situated appropriately for rooftop solar? If not, where am I permitted to locate solar on my property?  Almost all municipalities in New York State allow solar to be installed on a roof pursuant to a building permit.  However, if you do not have appropriate exposure to the sun, you may need to locate the facilities in other areas on your property.  You should check with your code enforcement officer to determine where on the property such panels would be permitted and what the process is for approvals, which can vary greatly from municipality to municipality.
  4. Connectivity to the grid – Once you determine who your local electric provider is and what their procedure is to hook up to track the excess electricity and how you will be credited.

Finally, many homeowners and businesses are finding out that their property may not be suitably situated for solar and they are joining with neighbors, fellow business people or friends to develop community or shared solar systems.  This is an emerging field in solar energy and comes with a host of questions, which we will delve into in more detail on future blogs, related to how to locate the facilities, how to deal with the local municipality zoning, and how to deal with utility companies for connection and distribution.

Below we have listed some resources for you.

John Cappello, Esq. and Borrego Solar / New York Solar Land Leases 101 Presentation

Solar Energy Industries Association – Guide to Land Leases for Solar

New York State Energy Research and Development Association (NYSERDA) Landowner Considerations for Solar

Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE)

Solar Calculator – Calculate power savings, payback time and incentives available in NYS

Community Solar Projects in New York State

Green Resources

If you are considering solar, it is always best to have someone on your side representing your interest.  And Jacobowitz and Gubits would love to help you navigate the process and help promote a cleaner, greener and prosperous New York.


John C. Cappello, Jacobowitz and Gubits, LLPJohn C. Cappello is a partner practicing Land Use/Environmental and Municipal Law. He can be reached by phone at 866-303-9595 toll free or 845-764-9656 and by email.

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