Commercial Solar Projects Are Growing in the Northeast
Large commercial solar farms are cropping up all across the United States at an unprecedented pace. According to SP Global Market Intelligence, the U.S. added 4.8 gigawatts of utility-scale solar capacity in the first half of 2021, a 15% increase from the first half of 2020 and nearly half of the total capacity added in 2020. And long-term growth prospects for solar are excellent. In late 2021, the federal government outlined a plan that would see the U.S. grow solar capacity by an average of 30 GW per year until 2025, then 60 GW after 2025.
While many of the largest solar installations are in California and the Southwest, solar growth is not limited to the Sunbelt. Even the Northeast, better known for long, cold winters, is seeing an explosion of new (and planned) commercial solar projects. Here are a few notable examples:
Cider Solar Farm
Spread across 3,000 acres in Genesee County, N.Y., the planned Cider Farm project is a 500-megawatt photovoltaic (PV) facility being developed by Hecate Energy. When completed, the project will supply an estimated 920,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable electricity per year — enough to power over 125,000 New York households.
The Cider Farm facility will use an innovative solar panel tracking system that will follow the sun to optimize power production throughout the day. The project developers estimate that the Cider Solar farm will offset nearly 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually – equal to removing almost 90,000 cars from New York’s roads each year.
If the New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) approves the project, Cider Solar Farm will be the largest solar project permitted and built in New York state, at an estimated cost of 500 million.
Gravel Pit Solar Farm
North of Hartford, Connecticut, the small town of East Windsor is the future site of one of the largest solar farms in the region. The project will be built on a 485-acre site and generate over 120 megawatts of power— enough to service almost 23,000 homes.
According to East Windsor selectman Jason Bowza, the solar farm will become one of the town’s five largest sources of property tax revenue, generating 378,000 a year for the next 20 years, plus an additional 450.5 million in infrastructure enhancements. The project also promises to create significant employment opportunities in the East Windsor region.
The developer, New York hedge fund D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments, is targeting a project completion by late 2022 or early 2023. According to project partner VHB, the East Windsor facility will reduce carbon emissions and align with Connecticut’s clean energy goals while providing power to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
South Ripley Solar Farm
Chautauqua County, N.Y., is home to ConnectGen’s large-scale South Ripley Solar Project. The South Ripley project will include up to 270 megawatts of power generation and a 20 MW battery storage facility, creating enough energy to power over 60,000 New York homes.
The South Ripley facility will create an additional 800,000 in tax revenues annually to the Town of Ripley, totaling more than 26.8 million over the project’s lifespan. It will also provide approximately 190,000 annually in incremental property tax revenue to Chautauqua County and more than 389,000 annually to local school districts.
According to ConnectGen, the South Ripley solar farm will take up approximately 2,000 acres, and construction will be low impact to minimize soil disturbances. ConnectGen has also committed to limiting tree clearing, working around wetlands, and collaborating with local farmers to identify and utilize low-productivity farmland. ConnectGen expects the South Ripley facility to be fully operational by Q4, 2023.
Roof-Mounted Solar Panels for Commercial Buildings
Commercial building roof design can range from angled shingle or metal roofs to expansive flat roofs on larger facilities. Many commercial solar installation and mounting options exist and Tick Tock can help you decide on what works right for you.
To see a recent commercial roof-mounted solar panel installation, click here!
For commercial properties with available land, installing a large ground mount system may be the perfect option for you. Our experts can help you make the right choice.
Additionally, a visible solar project could be an important element to your company’s image and commitment to sustainability.
To see a recent commercial ground-mounted solar panel installation, click here!
2-Axis Solar Trackers
Another great option for commercial properties is installing AllEarth solar trackers, which can increase energy production while also serving as a conversation piece. As well, AllEarth solar trackers can be a visible reminder of your business’s commitment to sustainability and improve your company’s image.
To see a recent commercial dual-axis solar tracker installation, click here!
Solar Carport Systems
Often an under-utilized asset is a business’s parking lot area. Solar carports can convert your parking lot to a power plant! Also, your employees and visitors will appreciate convenient shade or shelter from the bright sun, rain, snow or ice!
To see a recent commercial solar carport installation, click here!
How much do commercial solar systems cost?
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association. also referred to as SEIA, commercial solar panel systems cost an average of 450.45 per watt as of Q4 2021. This is slightly less than half the cost of systems installed on homes ( 3.06 ).
Based on these average cost figures, we can estimate the cost of commercial solar power systems of various sizes:
Solar installation costs by market segment
Average cost per watt for residential (‘resi’), commercial (‘non-resi’) and utility-scale solar. Image source: SEIA Solar Market Insight Report 2021 Q4
Do bear in mind that the average figures hide a large distribution in prices. For example, cost per watt tends to fall as system size increases, thanks to economies of scale. There are also many other factors that can cause to vary, such as location (costs vary by state), type of mounting system, difficulty of installation, and more.
Also keep in mind that the costs listed above are before applying any incentives, which can substantially reduce costs. Check out the following section for more details about incentives and rebates.
Commercial solar panel incentives and benefits
There are many compelling reasons for businesses, government organizations, and nonprofits to go solar. Here are the major incentives and benefits of commercial solar panel systems:
- Solar tax credit and other incentives
- Electric bill offset
- MACRS depreciation
- Multiple financing options
- Green credentials
- Quick payback period
We discuss each of these benefits below.
Solar tax credit and other incentives
The Clean Energy Credit. more commonly known as the solar tax credit. is equal to 30% of the cost of installing a solar panel system.
So if your organization pays 50,000 to install a solar power system, it will receive a 15,000 credit when it files its taxes. You can learn more about using the solar tax credit for commercial solar installations in this guide from the Department of Energy; just note that with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 the full 30% tax credit is now available through 2032.
States, utilities, and local governments may provide additional incentives for organizations that go solar. Make sure to check what incentives are available in your area.
Are you a homeowner? See all incentives and rebates for residential solar in your area
Lower operating costs through electric bill offset
Commercial solar power systems can be designed to offset 100% of an organization’s electricity bill.
Full electric bill offset is particularly easy if you install a grid-tied system, which allows you to export surplus power to the grid and import power to meet shortfalls when needed. Further, if net metering is available, you’ll even earn the full retail rate for the power you export!
Full electric bill offset means:
- Protection against utility rate hikes: As you are producing and consuming your own power, you are less affected by any future electricity price increases.
- Positive cash flow: Many organizations that go solar see this benefit from Month One as the loan repayments (if you financed the panels) can cost less than the bill savings.
- Free electricity: Once your solar panels are paid off, you’re essentially powering your organization for free.
The cost recovery period for solar energy equipment under a modified accelerated cost recovery system (MACRS) is just five (5) years.
This means that businesses will benefit from a large reduction in their tax liabilities in their first five years of owning the asset; this is extremely favorable considering solar panels have a warranted life of at least 25 years.
MACRS can be used in conjunction with the solar tax credit. The project’s cost basis is reduced by half the value of the solar tax credit. So, if you use the 30% tax credit, you’ll reduce the asset’s cost basis to 85%.
Flexible purchase and lease options
Organizations can choose to finance their solar panels in one of three ways:
- Solar loan: You take a loan to purchase the solar panels and make monthly repayments over 5-20 years
- Solar lease(aka renting solar): You pay a solar company a fixed monthly rate (‘rent’) for the use of their solar panels
- Power purchase agreement (PPA): You agree to purchase the power generated from the solar panels at an agreed rate per kilowatt-hour (kWh)
Solar systems bought with a solar loan are eligible for the tax credit; this is not the case with solar leases and PPAs. Solar loans generally offer the best return on investment and are the preferred option for property owners.
Alignment of generation and consumption
Solar power generation and electricity consumption tend to align closely in commercial solar panel installations. That’s because most organizations consume electricity during the day, when the sun is out and solar panels are generating power.
This alignment results in a higher degree of solar power self-consumption. This means that in commercial solar, there is generally:
- Less need for energy storage. a good thing, as battery solutions increase solar’s upfront costs and payback periods
- Increased savings in places where net metering (full retail rate for solar exports) is unavailable
This is in marked contrast with what happens in homes and the grid in general, which see a major spike in electricity consumption after sunset, exactly when solar panel output drops. This imbalance is known as the Duck Curve, and often needs to be addressed with expensive battery solutions.
Quick payback period
The combination of incentives, utility bill savings, and the MACRS depreciation tax benefits means that commercial solar payments can offer a great return on investment. in some cases as short as just 2-3 years.
Compared: residential, commercial, and utility-scale solar energy
Many of our readers have knowledge about solar panels for homes, or even about solar farms, but are less familiar with commercial solar.
Here is how commercial solar compares to other segments of solar:
|System size||3-10 kW||10 kW-1 MW||1 MW|
|Typical panel size||60-cell (39 x 66)||60-cell (39″ x 66″) / 72-cell (39″ x 77″)||72-cell (39″ x 77″)|
|Typical panel wattage||300-375 W||300-450 W||375-450 W|
|Total space requirements||140-700 sq ft||700 sq ft – 6 acres||6 acres|
|Cost per watt||3.06 / 5000.75-3.35||450.45||
Best commercial solar companies
Over the years, SolarReviews has compiled the best online resources for unbiased consumer reviews of solar companies.
Based on their review scores, here are the most highly-rated solar companies performing commercial solar installations:
When calculating review scores, SolarReviews gives higher weightage to more recent reviews, to ensure that review scores give a more accurate reflection of the company’s current performance. You can read more about our rating system here.
You may be wondering about the absence of solar behemoths like Tesla and Sunrun. Both companies failed to feature in this list as their review scores were too low. 2.9/5.0 for Tesla and 1.7/5.0 for Sunrun. They don’t just fare poorly on SolarReviews, but on websites like Yelp, as well.
- Commercial solar. also known as Commercial Industrial (CI) Solar. describes the use of solar energy by a range of different organization types, including businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits.
- Commercial solar systems cost an average of 450.45 per watt, or roughly half the price of residential systems.
- Organizations going solar enjoy many benefits and incentives: the solar tax credit, electric bill offset, MACRS depreciation, a quick payback, and green bragging rights.
- SolarReviews has compiled a list of the best commercial solar installers based on consumer reviews.
SolarReviews Blog Author
Zeeshan is passionate about promoting renewable energy and tackling climate change. He developed these interests while studying at beautiful Middlebury College, Vermont, which has a strong FOCUS on sustainability. He has previously worked in the humanitarian sector — for Doctors Without Borders — and in communications and journalism.
If you want to learn more about residential solar installations, do check out our blog or our advanced solar calculator, which can tell you everything you need to know about installing solar panels for your home, including cost and savings figures.
Quality Plating Case Study – 127.3kW
Quality Plating will save 450.8 million over the next 30 years with their solar array, which will pay for itself in less than 4 years.
Research annual usage to analyze energy usage, implement efficiency measures, and reduce demand charges.
Implement a three-step process to evaluate the current equipment, upgrade fixtures, and install new solar array on roof.
Improved efficiency in usage and demand to achieve Net Zero for power usage, and spend less annually than previous monthly power bills.
Across the Intermountain West, commercial solar panel installation is becoming increasingly popular – and not just among big corporations. Businesses of all types are reaping the benefits of photovoltaic power, saving thousands on electricity costs, enjoying an increased cash flow and seeing a speedy return on investment. Commercial solar projects generate good press, too, and since many people prefer to support environmentally conscious enterprises, going green can help a business grow.
Simply put, harnessing the power of the sun helps create a brighter future for businesses. The Intermountain Wind Solar team has extensive experience completing commercial solar panel installations for a wide range of companies and organizations in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Oregon. Here are some of the businesses that are investing in solar energy:
- Agricultural Operations – Farms and ranches need electricity to operate machinery, to heat and cool buildings and to light up the property. After adopting photovoltaic power, energy is no longer such a substantial overhead expense.
- Convenience Stores Gas Stations – For these businesses, electricity is a major expense. Solar panel installation is a Smart investment, as PV systems help offset the costs of running the lights, coolers, freezers and gas pumps at all hours.
- Data Storage Centers – In order to maintain security and provide around-the-clock access to information, the servers at data centers need to be kept cool. And, many tech companies are turning to commercial solar for a reliable source of power.
- Hospitality-Related Businesses – Hotels, restaurants, theme parks, event venues and other businesses focused on leisure, recreation and tourism often face high electricity bills. Going solar is an effective solution, as it greatly reduces energy costs.
- Manufacturing Facilities – A massive amount of power is required to keep factory equipment, industrial lighting and HVAC systems up and running. To meet their energy needs and bring down operating costs, many manufacturers are installing solar panels.