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Celebrating Solar in Sullivan County

The Catskills region in New York State is not just home to beautiful mountains, but also a county setting aggressive goals toward a clean energy economy. Sullivan County, New York is now a SolSmart a SolSmart Silver Designated Community, one of more than 300 SolSmart designees nationwide! The Silver designation shows the local government has created a favorable environment for solar business, which generates jobs and helps build local economies in the region.

Sullivan County celebrated its SolSmart designation with surrounding communities at an event on October 16 at SUNY Sullivan. The half-day workshop, “Local Governments Leading the Clean Energy Transition,” was organized by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability USA, which served as a SolSmart Advisor to the county during 2019.

The workshop was centered around national and state initiatives that encourage counties and towns to advance solar energy targets. Among the speakers were Sullivan County, ICLEI, The Solar Foundation, The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

During the workshop, The Solar Foundation presented a plaque to recognize the county’s SolSmart Silver designation. Heather Brown, the county’s sustainability coordinator, proudly discussed the County’s achievements.

“Being in a rural community, it’s not always easy to sell these programs, but Sullivan County has been very successful,” Brown said. “When you add up the considerable amount of solar the county has installed and break that down to a per-capita basis — 185 watts per person — we are well above the national average, which is quite awesome. SolSmart designation shows us we are on the right track and incentivizes the county to go further.”

The county’s first installation was in 2009: A 15 kW system on a government transportation facility on Town of Bethel Airport road. Today, the county has invested in 2 MW in solar capacity. In December 2016, Sullivan County adopted the Solar Uniform Tax Exempt Policy, which offers a 15-year tax break on solar projects to provide more certainty for developers.

The event concluded with a tour of the college’s solar installations led by Larry Reeger, SUNY’s Director of Sustainability. The campus houses a 21.5 MW solar photovoltaic system which stands on nine acres of land. The system consists of 7056 solar panels producing 2 million watts of electricity. This serves more than 50% of the campus’s energy, generating significant savings for SUNY Sullivan each year and helping support the college’s goal of becoming carbon neutral. The college also has separate a 3 kW ground-mounted photovoltaic array, a 2.5 kW wind turbine for renewable energy training, and uses geothermal energy for heating and cooling.

The SolSmart Silver designation is only the most recent among Sullivan County’s accomplishments. The county is also a bronze certified New York State Climate Smart Community, based on its actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change at the local level. Now, Sullivan County can look forward to providing even more low-cost solar energy to its residents and businesses, while meeting its sustainability goals for the future.

Pictured with plaques: Kale Roberts, senior program officer at ICLEI-USA; Heather Brown, sustainability coordinator at Sullivan County; Toyah Barigye, senior project manager at The Solar Foundation.