Community Solar Helping New York to Reach Its Energy Goals by 2030

February 07, 2023

By Autumn Shanil

As a sociology major in college followed by a career in the film industry for 15 years, community solar Expert David Sandbank didn’t exactly have a traditional start in the energy field, but that hasn’t curbed his passion for what he knows is important.

Sandbank’s concern for the environment began to grow in the early 2000s and after meeting an individual who was starting a solar company in late 2008, he left the film industry to join them.

“I initially thought let me just give this a try for the summer and see how it goes, then I caught the bug, and the rest is history,” Sandbank chuckled.

A Solar Company is Formed

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According to Sandbank, initially the solar company was just a team of three, but over the next six years they grew to be about 130. With no education or background in solar, Sandbank really dug into all the aspects of what it’s like for a solar developer to develop projects in New York City, outside of NYC, and all the barriers and hurdles in order to do so. He learned about every aspect of the process from selling a project, procuring the equipment, operations, and permits, to dealing with utility companies, NYSERDA, customers and more.

“It was sort of like my bootcamp for what I do now. I was able to get the perspective, field experience and street credit on how this is done,” he stated.

In 2014 Sandbank was approached about running the NY Sun Program for NYSERDA, an opportunity he never expected. “When I saw what the responsibilities were I thought it was everything I was doing for one company, but I could now do for NY State, and I was really excited to take on that challenge.”


So, in November of the same year, Sandbank joined NYSERDA as the Director of NY Sun, approaching the position with the perspective of representing the rate payer – the state as well as the solar developer. Over the next couple of years, he helped rebuild the NY Sun Program to accommodate not only the needs of a solar developer but also in reducing the impact of what the state has to pay for solar, as well as improving the application process as a whole. They also automated much of the simplified process so that the team at NY Sun can work on new ideas such as community solar programs and how to benefit low-income customers in disadvantaged communities.

David Sandbank
David Sandbank is Vice President of Distributed Energy Resources for NYSERDA and believes New York is well on its way to reaching its goal of 70% of all electricity needs from carbon free generators by 2030.

In that time Sandbank was promoted from Director of NY Sun to overseeing the Energy Storage Program, to also overseeing the Clean Transportation Program, and then to Vice President of Distributed Energy Resources, putting Sandbank on the executive team at NYSERDA.

“Things don’t just happen overnight. It’s a million different decisions, and with every decision you have to ask yourself how is this going to make the program better. What are the needs? Where are the problem areas? How can we adapt to ensure we’re addressing that in every decision we make,” he stated.

New York Leads in Community Solar

According to Sandbank, NY State is now one of the leaders in solar, and community solar, in the nation. We currently have well over one gigawatt of community solar in

NY, which is enough to serve over 100,000 customers, and that is continuing to grow.

“We have very large goals here in NY State. Seventy percent of all the electricity generated has to come from carbon free generators by 2030,” Sandbank explained. “That’s not too far from now and it’s really important that people in NY see, feel, and hear that progress, and community solar is very good at that.”

There are some main characteristics Sandbank stated as to why NY is one of the leaders in community solar in the nation and one of them is that NY made the decision to allow all New Yorkers to benefit, which is why community solar initially started, but also because NY is the only state to design a funding mechanism to provide solar projects with incentives to generate the electricity where and when it’s needed the most.

“That’s probably the backbone of why we’re doing so well, and why we can go so big, because if these projects are not only benefiting subscribers but are also benefiting the whole utility territory, then you can go big with them. They’re not costing, they’re only benefitting.”

Sandbank also stated that NY did a really good job of making sure that there are consumer protection measures in place. Early on at NYSERDA, they realized that the communities really need information, answers to their questions, and help figuring it all out. So they built a solar guidebook and have a siting team that goes out to local communities to help them create model laws and provide them with information and templates, helping them keep their community character intact.

Community Solar and Underserved Communities

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Community solar is also one of the best ways to provide benefits to disadvantaged communities and low-income customers, as there are program benefits for solar projects that prioritize their bill savings to low income subscribers. Sandbank said they plan to continue to expand that in the future.

“We haven’t had a year yet that we haven’t seen growth in solar, and this year is no different. We’ve already outperformed last year in how much solar we’re deploying.”

NY Sun was originally approved to be a 3 gigawatt goal, and has most recently been approved to be a 10 gigawatt goal, which for Sandbank is a testament to everybody in NY State – from the solar developer to the policy makers to the industry at large. NY State now has over 13,000 solar jobs, and that number continues to increase.

Other states in the nation are beginning to catch on as well, although their processes and methods are very different from NY State’s approach. NY took a long time to figure things out before launching, Sandbank shared, whereas other states have launched pilot programs that start and stop, testing to see what works. Sandbank believes the next big state will be California as legislators passed a bill to go big with solar, concentrating mostly on low-income customers and using energy storage combined with solar.

“I think what’s important is that we have a balanced approach here in NY with where we’re getting our energy. We have hydro, wind, and solar – which solar is a big part of that energy portfolio, and community solar too.”


Cover photo: The New York Times/Cindy Schultz

“Community Solar Helping New York to Reach Its Energy Goals by 2030” originally published in A Sustainable Tomorrow, January 2023.

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