Energy Innovation for Everyone

September 29, 2022

Story and Photo By Autumn Schanil

Senior Resource Educator and Energy Advisor, Sean Welsh, has been working for Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Sullivan for 19 years, with the last 16 years focused on providing energy-related programming within Sullivan County and energy innovation for everyone.

Welsh conducts engagement activities like community presentations and workshops to help build clean energy awareness while working with NY State residents, small businesses, and affordable building owners (with an emphasis on low to moderate income house- holds and disadvantaged communities) regarding avail- able energy programs and topics.

“Through my work, we discuss programs available through NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) as well as other community resources to help see an energy project through to completion,” Welsh explained. “We work with all community members but put an emphasis on connecting disadvantaged communities with cost-saving opportunities.”

CCE has Energy Advisors throughout the Mid-Hudson region which includes Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster Counties. Although Welsh works mostly in Sullivan County, the last four years has seen him working throughout the Mid-Hudson region as well.

According to Welsh, solar is accessible no matter someone’s income level.

The Homeowner

If a homeowner or renter is eligible for an economic assistance program such as HEAP, SNAP nutrition benefits, or the Weatherization program, then they can also get an energy assessment with no cost help to insulate their building through the energy efficiency program known as Empower NY, offered by NYSERDA.

“That includes a no-cost community solar subscription as well,” added Welsh. “Part of my role is to help the consumer look at other resources that they may or may not already be involved with, like the Weatherization

Assistance Program, or other community programs that can help with building issues not covered by the energy audit programs. NYSERDA offers energy efficiency pro- grams for all income levels.

“As an Energy Advisor, I can assist with applications and along the way, work with contractors to finish build- ing upgrades,” he said.

Future of Solar

As an educator focused on energy and energy-related issues, Welsh feels that solar will play a large role in New York State’s Energy goals through 2050, so preparing buildings with energy efficient strategies while considering how the building systems are working in unison is very important.

Things like ground and air source heat pumps for clean heating and cooling technology versus the more energy intensive HVAC systems can save a consumer money in the long-term.

“Experience has shown me that no two buildings are alike, so consumers often have questions regarding the numerous options and pathways they’re facing,” Welsh stated.

“Solar can have barriers to it when considering it for an array on individual property or buildings, and it can also be cost prohibitive upfront,” he said. “But community solar can really cast a wider net allowing anyone to sign up and source a portion of their electricity from a local project, relying less on fossil fuels.”

And as utility-scale solar developments continue to emerge throughout New York State, solar will continue to be an option for building owners and renters in different forms.

If readers would like to inquire about what’s available for energy efficiency upgrades, home energy audits, clean energy technologies or solar questions they can call Sean Welsh at (845) 292-6180 ext 127 or send an email to sw288@cornell.edu.

For information on community solar in New York State, visit Delaware River Solar at www.delawareriversolar.com.

Remelt family’s project combines solar panels and perennials

September 06, 2022

Charlie and Sarah Remelt with son Parker Remelt and future daughter in-law, Allison Bergamo, on their family farm in Henrietta. A portion of the farmland is now leased to Delaware River Solar. The Remelts are growing mums between the solar panels.

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Head down a chunky gravel driveway off East River Road in Henrietta, and behind a white farmhouse the Remelt family farm comes into view.

The fields there produce a variety of crops, Christmas trees, and enough electricity to power roughly 1,000 homes, generated by thousands of solar panels arranged in rows and pointed skyward. This summer, the Remelts tried out a new crop: your everyday chrysanthemums, or mums for short.

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about a farm growing common decorative flowers, but the Remelts aren’t growing them in the traditional way, which would be in a greenhouse or outdoors at a nursery. Instead, they’re raising mums in a row between two banks of solar panels — making agricultural use of idle land that so many farmers who have reserved acreage for lucrative solar farms might have written off as unusable.

“Using farmland to put solar panels on is absolutely a fantastic resource,” said Parker Remelt, whose parents, Charlie and Sarah, own the farm, and who has taken on the cultivation of the mums as a pet project.

“We need more solar panels. We need more clean energy. But we also need to make sure that we’re not robbing our country of the farmland as well,” Parker said. “So we need to make sure that we’re using the land in a more appropriate and resourceful way. That’s what attracted me to this project.”

Many farmers, the Remelts included, have leased land to solar companies as a way to bring in revenue. Farming is often an economically precarious business and the additional, steady income generated through those leases can help keep the enterprises viable and prevent them from selling the land for residential or commercial development.

Delaware River Solar leases one-quarter of the 100 acres the Remelts own and its panels provide clean energy to the farm’s neighbors through a community solar program. The remaining acreage is still actively cultivated.

Nationwide, some solar farms coexist with agricultural activities, but the practice of combining the two is not yet widespread, said Cornell’s Zhang…

 

Read Rochester City News’ complete reporting on Delaware River Solar’s community solar farm installation at the Remelt family farm here.

Learn more about Delaware River Solar here.

Cover Photo: Max Shulte/Rochester City News