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Solar project near the Medical Campus benefits both National Grid and area residents

Cost savings from innovations should not be restricted to the well-heeled.

People who can afford all the latest gadgets and expensive connections have tended to gain the most.

Think: When costs go up, computers and high-speed internet connections become unaffordable for many low-income households, widening the digital divide. The ability to leverage such technology shows up in educational and career advantages.

Now comes along a program that allows a segment of the community with modest means to lead the way. The best part is that it is not some bureaucratic governmental enterprise.

National Grid has launched a $3.7 million project that intends to install as many solar arrays as needed to generate 500,000 kilowatts of electricity within a neighborhood slightly east of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The goal is to install solar systems on 100 homes.

As reported in The News, the company wants to “measure whether the additional local generating capacity can help it avoid making other investments in its power grid and improve its reliability.”

So far the information gathered is hopeful, especially to residents like Schuyler Banks, a former National Grid supervisor who now teaches at Erie Community College. He had solar panels installed on his mother’s home on Lemon Street in the Fruit Belt – a 5-kilowatt rooftop system that represents the demonstration project’s first installation.

One of the key benefits as the project expands throughout the neighborhood is that the power generated by the rooftop arrays will be sold into the state’s electricity market. The money will then be used to reduce the 100 residents’ power bills, in addition to those of another 50 homeowners in the neighborhood who applied to be in the program but whose homes were not suited for rooftop energy.

It may not seem like a lot of money given that the expectation is a reduction in electricity bills of $17 to $20 a month for those 150 households. But every little bit counts. That is especially true in communities in which utility costs can consume a good portion of modest incomes.

The company has indicated the demonstration project’s benefit is also in showing that it could be duplicated. Credit goes to National Grid and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which is partnering with the company on the project.

It brings in a segment of the population that might otherwise be left out of the renewable energy conversation. The Medical Campus stands to benefit from the prospect that the neighborhood arrays could meet the demand for the nearby campus. And, of course, National Grid could benefit by not having to invest sums of money in new substations or equipment.

Renewable solar energy powering a low-income neighborhood and nearby Medical Campus in a clean way that does not pollute the environmental while meeting free market demand: It’s a win all around.

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