Woodstock officials study solar proposal

A Kingston company has reemerged as a potential partner for Woodstock in a plan to construct a solar array that would power the town’s wastewater treatment plant and indirectly supply electricity for use by other municipal facilities.

Todd Roberts, the CEO of the Kingston firm Solartech Renewables, which manufactures solar equipment including photovoltaic panels, was expected to discuss his company’s latest proposal for the project at a meeting this week with a Woodstock Town Board subcommittee, composed of councilwoman Cathy Magarelli and councilman Jay Wenk, and the town’s contract attorney, Ron Pordy.

[The meeting was scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, January 23, as this week’s issue of Woodstock Times went to press; a report on the meeting’s outcome will appear in an upcoming issue.]


If the town elects to proceed with the project, it would sign a contract, known as a power purchase agreement (PPA), whereby one or more solar development companies would participate in the construction and operation of a 750-kilowatt array of photovoltaic panels at the site of the wastewater, or sewer, plant on Route 212 east of the hamlet. For a specified period (probably 20 years), the developer would sell electricity generated by the facility to the town at a fixed rate. The town would have the option of buying the solar equipment at market value when the PPA expired.

The solar facility, as envisioned, would generate not only enough electricity to meet the demands of the sewer plant, but also a surplus, which the town would sell to Central Hudson in exchange for a credit. The credit would be applied to the price charged by the utility company for the electricity used by the town’s other buildings and infrastructure elements, such as street lights. Opinions differ as to whether the town would save or lose money over the course of a PPA and thereafter.


Tale of two companies

Armed with a nonbinding “letter of intent” from the town, which enabled it to secure grant funding for a solar project from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Solartech appeared to be the leading, if not the only, contender for participation in the Woodstock project last fall, after the company submitted a preliminary PPA for the town’s consideration in October.

Soon thereafter, however, another solar developer, OnForce Solar, based in the Bronx, seemed to emerge as the front-runner following a December 18 presentation to the Town Board by its CEO, Charles Feit. When little or no mention of Solartech was made at the meeting, observers were left to wonder what had become of the Kingston firm’s proposal.

According to Woodstock supervisor Jeremy Wilber, the Town Board reacted with “a certain lack of enthusiasm” when it reviewed the original Solartech PPA last fall. As a result of the proposal’s perceived shortcomings, said Wilber in a January 23 interview, OnForce was brought to the attention of the board by Randolph Horner, a local resident and renewable energy expert who has, on an unpaid basis, coordinated the development of the project on behalf of the town. (Horner would receive compensation if the project comes to fruition.)

Councilman Ken Panza disputed Wilber’s contention that the Town Board received and reviewed Solartech’s initial proposal last fall, on or around the document’s October 4, 2012, date of submission. “The original (Solartech) PPA certainly wasn’t looked at by the Town Board because I never saw it,” Panza said in a recent interview. Magarelli, however, confirmed that she, for one, had reviewed the Solartech document and concluded that some of its financial terms, in her view, failed to satisfy the town’s best interest.

Panza, meanwhile, attributed Solartech’s revived candidacy to a January 9 meeting between him and company officials including Roberts, which led to Solartech’s decision to revise some of the terms of its original PPA. “That meeting restarted the whole process,” he said.

Roberts described the latest version of his company’s proposal as only a modest revision of the original. “There is a difference between the first and second versions, based on the comments we have received,” he said. “The versions are not identical, but are not too different.”

The Solartech executive added that Woodstock’s consideration of his company’s proposal now appeared to be proceeding on a conventional and proper course, with the process overseen by the Town Board subcommittee and the town’s contract attorney. According to Roberts, Solartech has arranged third-party financing for the construction of the Woodstock solar array.

Magarelli, Wenk, Pordy, and Roberts are expected to review at the January 23 meeting not only the new version of the Solartech PPA, but also, said Wilber, the company’s general “bona fides,” including its fiscal stability and its plans to finance the construction of the solar facility. It remains possible that Solartech and OnForce would participate together in the project, as a joint venture. According to Horner, the two companies, at his behest and with his participation, have discussed such an arrangement in recent weeks.