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Could solar make biggest impact in low-income neighborhoods?

National Grid
Adjacent to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the Fruit Belt comprises about 130 acres and 36 city blocks.

Could solar energy reduce costs in economically-challenged neighborhoods? That is what National Grid is looking to find out.

The $3.7 million Fruit Belt Neighborhood Solar Demonstration Project is a response to the state to advance renewable energy generation. National Grid is testing this on the rooftops of homes within Buffalo’s Fruit Belt. The projects participants are currently receiving bill credits around $15 per month.

National Grid Communications Manager Steve Brady said solar energy has slowly been implemented into Upstate New York, but it is starting to pick up.

“Clearly the state has set very aggressive targets for having renewable energy available,” said Brady. “We are a part of that. We want to help support that. We think it’s the right thing to do for the environment. We think it’s the right thing to do for the economy.”

Brady said they want to test if a significant concentration in one area will have a major impact on their grid.

”The challenge in a neighborhood like [Buffalo’s] Fruit Belt that remains somewhat economically challenged is that there are so many barriers to getting into that business on your own," he said. "We’re testing to see whether this aggregated ownership is a better model to introduce renewable energy into economically challenged neighborhoods.”

National Grid plans to spend a few billion dollars across Upstate New York improving the existing electricity distribution system over the next three years.

Brady said with the entire neighborhood being served on the same set of circuits, solar energy could reduce or eliminate the need for additional infrastructure expenditures.

“Being able to avoid spending is always of interest to us,” said Brady. "Obviously we have an obligation to provide safe and reliable service. We will do what is necessary to do that, but if by introducing renewable energy like solar in a very concentrated way can help reduce those maintenance costs, frankly, it’s not only good for us, it’s good for our customers.”

The program is now fully enrolled. Brady said they hope to have all units installed and operating by November. That is when they will be able to track data on a more complete basis.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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