MTA to Monetize Its Rooftops With Solar Panels

This move is the latest of a series of efforts by the MTA to find new sources of revenue.

The MTA is in dire financial straits, facing a $500 million deficit in 2020, which is expected to rise to about $1 billion by 2022. The solar panels, like the recently passed congestion pricing, will reduce carbon emissions while generating income for the agency.

The MTA has experimented with solar panels before. In 2008 it installed solar panels on bus depots and warehouses.  In 2014, it tested solar-powered kiosks providing Metro-North Woodlawn riders with real-time information on connecting subway and bus schedules.

This is a much more ambitious project. The solar panels atop MTA bus depots, repair shops, train yards and commuter lots around the New York Metro-region will generate an estimated 100 megawatts of green electricity once fully realized, enough to power 18,000 households.

It would produce more than triple the production of Long Island Solar Farm, a 32-megawatt photovoltaic plant that is the largest not just in New York State but in the northeast. That plant can power about 4,500 homes.

More and more rooftops in New York are sprouting solar panels. The Javits Center has just announced that it will put 4,000 solar panels on its roof, which will generate 1.4 megawatts of solar energy. That’s more than the 3,000 solar panels atop Building 293 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. So far, EnterSolar’s  10-acre, 9,000-panel solar farm on Staten Island is the city’s biggest ground-mounted solar power generator.

Solar power projects help the state reach two of our major policy priorities: increasing use of renewable energy and cutting emissions from the transportation sector, which is the #1 contributor to climate change in the state.

Making the project more attractive is the fact that the price of installing solar energy is falling – it has dropped 47% in the past five years, thanks to Increasingly efficient solar panels that cost less to manufacture.

The MTA’s chief development officer, Janno Lieber, said that the agency expects to earn “a significant amount of revenue“ from the project.

The MTA will start with seven locations around the city, including the Ulmer Park bus depot in Brooklyn, the Queens Village bus depot, maintenance facilities in Coney Island and Jamaica, a Metro-North parking lot in Cortlandt Station and a Metro-North operations lot in Wassaic. These sites were chosen because of power demand in their vicinity and because they have new pavement or rooftops.  This initial phase will generate an estimated 6.5 megawatts of electricity.

The MTA already has solar panels installed on about two dozen of its sites.  A CUNY solar map shows that 66% of New York City’s rooftops could be used to generate solar power, generating enough electricity to meet half of the city’s needs during peak periods.

NYLCV will continue to advocate for projects like these, which improve public transportation and increase the use of renewable energy.