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More New Yorkers are going solar

Solar Liberty

Solar energy use is heating up in New York State, according to a state report released this week.

Governor Andrew Cuomo says solar energy grew by more than 300 percent from 2011 to 2014. Government incentives seem to be playing a key role in the growth. The state has been offering $1 billion in incentives, part of the NY-Sun initiative for larger-scale solar projects since last year. A 30 percent federal tax credit is also being given out to entice users.

Adam Rizzo, president of Solar Liberty, a solar energy installer in Amherst, said those incentives are quite attractive for users.

“We’re seeing a lot of and businesses and homeowners take advantage of those facts and go solar, allowing themselves to have energy independence from rising costs over time and taking control of their own energy production,” Rizzo said.

However, Rizzo pointed out that some government incentives have actually decreased over time. The 30 percent tax credit will also expire next year. But the cost of installation has decreased substantially over time.

Installed solar system prices dropped by 8 percent last year and down 49 percent since 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The decrease in costs makes the payback time for solar users much quicker.

New York's growth is twice the rate of the nation's overall solar growth. Yet the report showed that local counties didn't see as much solar growth compared to other counties in New York State in the three-year period. The Western New York region consisting of Erie, Niagara, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties accounted for less than four percent of the state's growth in solar energy.

Is Western New York lagging behind the rest of the state?

“I don’t think that’s the case,” Rizzo said. “The report was saying that some of the other counties have grown, there has been an increase in their growth. However, I’d like to point out that Erie county, for example, has one of the highest solar installation numbers throughout the state. You can look at that from an overall prospective not just a year or two.”

Solar energy is the fastest growing energy technology in the United States today. 538 companies in New York are involved with solar energy-type work and employ more than 7,000 workers. Solar Liberty is feeling the benefits of the growing line of work and installing more solar energy systems than ever before.

“Our numbers are way up both for residential solar and commercial solar,” Rizzo said. “It’s allowed us to continue to grow our business in New York State. We’re adding employees all the time in all of our different fields, including more electricians, more engineers, more sales, more marketing, all of the different areas of our business have been able to grow.”

While use of solar power is growing, it remains a very small part of New York's electricity use.

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