As residents report increasing mail and phone calls about buying into community solar farms, state officials say they have resources available to make sure you know who you’re dealing with, while still taking advantage of renewable energy and possible savings on your electric bill.

Officials at the state Department of Public Service (DPS) in Albany said these community solar projects, which they refer to as Distributed Energy Resource providers (DERs), are an important part of the state’s clean energy plans.

“Distributed clean energy resources are critical to building an energy system that will meet Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal target of 70 percent clean and renewable energy in New York by 2030,” John D. Chirlin, of the DPS Office of Public Affairs, told The Leader.

But Chirlin said state officials’ enthusiasm for those renewable options doesn’t mean they aren’t keeping a close eye on the industry.

“As these new energy resources help create a cleaner and more resilient power system here in New York, the Department is focused on ensuring that consumers are protected from potential fraud and unscrupulous contract provisions, aiding consumers while ensuring the integrity of this burgeoning market,” he said.

One of the key steps made by DPS is certifying each DER solar company doing business in the state, including reviewing the contracts that they will be using with customers.

“DER providers file copies of sample contracts and marketing materials with the Department of Public Service for review to determine compliance with the Commission’s approved Uniform Business Practices for Distributed Energy Resource Suppliers. Once staff has completed its review and finds the materials to be in compliance, the provider is notified that it is authorized to market in New York as a registered provider and is listed on the Department’s web page,” Chirlin said.

The list of certified companies is located at http://documents.dps.ny.gov/PTC/der.

“Any company that is marketing to customers that does not appear on this list is in violation of Commission order, and their materials have not been reviewed by [our] staff,” he added.

Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard said while he hasn’t heard of any issues with community solar yet, his office is aware of the possibility and vigilant about it.

“Although we have received no reports in Steuben County regarding scams concerning green energy alternatives, the likelihood of it happening is ever increasing,” Allard told The Leader.

He said it’s important that DPS is providing guidance to energy consumers on this issue.

“It is reassuring to know that a resource is available to confirm the validity of companies representing this expanding industry,” Allard said.

Chirlin said there is much more information about the community solar business and how it operates online at https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/NY-Sun/Solar-for-Your-Home/Community-Solar.

He said while there is not a single, approved way to connect a solar company, a utility provider and a customer, there is a general guideline for how the system should ideally work.

“Typically, a Community Distributed Generation (CDG) provider will bill a customer a subscription fee to participate in the program, the utility will credit the customer based on the generation from the solar farm and the CDG provider will bill the customer for their use less the percentage of those credits,” he said.

And if a customer has started a relationship with one of these businesses and thinks they’re being ripped off or something isn’t right, they should take action, Chirlin said.

“Customers should first contact their solar provider. If the solar provider is unable to resolve the issue, consumers can contact our Department’s consumer helpline or on the web using the online complaint form.”

The helpline is (800) 342-3377 and is available 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

The online complaint form is located at http://www3.dps.ny.gov/ocs/itgate.nsf/(webDPS_welcome)?OpenForm.