Small City Sets Example for Floating Solar, Empowered by NREL Data Set

Good News Notes:

Two city employees of Cohoes, New York, were brainstorming how to power the city’s municipal buildings with renewable energy, but few options made sense. Cohoes does not have acres of unused land for solar panels, and the slate-topped buildings cannot hold rooftop solar. Moreover, with its high amount of low- and moderate-income (LMI) residents, 17,000-person Cohoes was not swimming in cash. The solution had to be something local — something to keep cost savings within the community.

“We looked at every aspect of how to add clean energy to our working-class community,” said Theresa Bourgeois, director of operations for the city of Cohoes. “Then my colleague came upon the idea of floating solar. We considered our 10-acre water reservoir and asked, ‘Can we really utilize this?’ The more we researched, we realized yes, we can! In fact, it’s the best possible answer.”

No U.S. cities have done anything like what Cohoes was proposing: a municipally-owned and operated floating solar installation — but there was no reason it would not work. Bourgeois and City Planner Joe Seman-Graves did their research and learned that the technology of floating solar is sound and that their reservoir could hold enough panels to power all Cohoes city-owned buildings and streetlights — erasing around $500,000 in annual electricity costs — with 40% of the generated electricity remaining for civic use. Everything about the project lined up, but at a cost of $6 million, Cohoes needed buy-in from others.

Such clean energy investments are especially challenging for small and LMI cities because municipalities cannot access the same tax incentives as private companies when developing renewable energy. Instead, the city would need to make the case for state, federal, and foundation funding, and for that, they found their pitch in a 2018 National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report….”

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