By Hannah Goetz Patricia Sroka wants her community to find a bright spot amidst the gloom of the Coronavirus pandemic. The retired Endicott postmaster, born and raised in the close-knit Chenango hamlet of Castle Creek, has always lived a stone’s throw from her family. Her cousins, siblings and even her mother still live on farmland owned by her family for generations. Describing her two grandchildren as “the light of my life,” she wonders what this year holds in store. “It’s a crazy time,” said Sroka. “You don’t know what the future is going to look like and I don’t think people would worry about it as much if this virus wasn’t around.” Community and family have always been synonymous to Sroka, so, for her, nothing beats an opportunity to foster resiliency in both. Just two lots up the street, in her sister’s backyard, Sroka has found sunny relief in a new initiative that brings the promise of the renewable energy revolution and financial relief to Broome County and beyond. Patricia and 320 other households will unlock access to previously costly green energy at a 20% discount because 40 acres of south-facing family land are now home to a six-megawatt community shared solar farm. The new project offers subscribers about $200 in annual electricity savings and the deepest discount on solar energy in the state. “I think this program is a great opportunity for the whole community,” said Marie Lamb, Sroka’s sister. “Not only does it provide us with green energy, but also the added benefit of saving money.” “I love it,” said Sroka. “I’d love to see more of it happening, especially in New York State—let’s get it going people.” Sroka says that she sees community solar playing a critical role in her town’s future. “Too many of the options that we have for the land that we own keep getting squashed,” said Sroka. “So, to see my sister and brother-in-law be able to prosper from their land and see something positive and environmentally safe—I think it’s just the greatest thing.” The ground-mounted array, built with almost 17,000 panels, was developed by Citizens Energy Corporation and is one of six arrays comprising the company’s cutting-edge JOE-4-SUN program. The Boston-based non-profit uses energy from its projects to provide discount green power to New York, Massachusetts and California families in need. The company was founded by former U.S. Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II in 1979 to make life’s basic needs more affordable. Citizens’ first projects provided discount heating oil and in the last ten years has transitioned to affordable renewable energy. Citizens Energy founder Joe Kennedy, who continues to run the company as chairman and president, is the eldest son of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was a frequent visitor to Binghamton during his short term in office representing New York State on Capitol Hill. “My dad welcomed Senator Kennedy because he liked his vision for the future and he liked the Kennedy family’s vision for the future,” Binghamton City councilor Joe Burns said of his father, former Binghamton Mayor John Burns, at a recent dedication ceremony for the project. The newly elected councilor welcomed Sen. Kennedy’s grandson Michael Kennedy to Binghamton at the event and praised JOE-4-SUN for providing the opportunity for everyday people to participate in the fight against climate change “and save money at the same time.” Michael Kennedy, the nephew of Joe Kennedy, heads new business projects at Citizens Energy and managed the Chenango array through every phase of the development process. “Any savings is wonderful if you ask me,” said Sroka, who echoed Burns’ sentiment in hoping that this program would be the beginning of affordable green energy across the state. While there is little the average person can do about the global pandemic, Sroka says there is a little something the average person can do about global warming. By signing up for JOE-4-SUN, Sroka says everyday families can cut both carbon emissions and household electricity costs. She signed up online and expects to see savings on her utility bill in the next 30 to 60 days. “Give it a try,” said Sroka. “I don’t see a negative to it. You’re not committed to anything by signing up. You can get out of it if you need to. What do you have to lose? Do it.” The solar array is now live and spots in the program are limited. Families can apply online at www.citizensenergy.com or call (855) JOE-4-SUN.
The Sun Shines In Castle Creek