Woodstock takes another step toward solar power

solar SQThe Woodstock Town Board has taken the next step toward harnessing enough solar power to offset most of Woodstock’s operational needs. At a November 25 meeting, the board interviewed four firms competing to build a 600 kilowatt solar array on the site of the wastewater treatment plant. Responding to a request for proposals were Poughkeepsie-based Mannino Electric Inc., Bronx-Based OnForce Solar, San Mateo, Calif.-based Solar City and Rockville, Md.-based Standard Solar.

Those dreading how much such a massive and expensive undertaking will impact their taxes may be able, initially, to rest easy. In this ‘power purchase agreement,’ or PPA, the town agrees to purchase electricity from the winning bidder or its backers and in exchange, the solar array is built at no cost to the town. While the town could build its own array, Supervisor Jeremy Wilber said, it would then assume all the risks and as a municipality, receive no tax incentive.

In a likely scenario, the array will be remote net metered. In other words, the array will feed the power it produces into the Central Hudson grid. The town offices and operations would still get power from Central Hudson, but would receive a credit for the amount of electricity generated by the array. The town would, in turn, purchase that amount of electricity from the solar company, theoretically at a lower rate than the utility.

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The proposed rates range from about 8 cents per kilowatt-hour to 20 cents depending on the level of incentive offered by the New York State Energy Resources Development Authority (NYSERDA).

According to Central Hudson billing compiled by Councilman Ken Panza, the town paid just over $113,000 to the utility last year. If the array generates the expected 700,000 kilowatt-hours per year, that would offset the bulk of the town’s average yearly 730,000 kWh usage.

With a built-in 2 percent yearly escalator in the proposals, the town would pay about $70,000 for the first year of solar power on the low end to about $100,000 the last year of the 20-year PPA. The town would only then be on the hook for the remaining 30,000 kWh at the full Central Hudson rates.

Depending on the array layout, it would consist of about 1,800 5-foot by 3-foot panels and would require clearing three to seven acres of trees, but would still leave enough of a buffer so it wouldn’t be visible to neighbors.

While each proposed array would be about the same size and generate the same amount of electricity, the bidders varied in their layout and approach.

“We took a more engineered approach with a 100-foot buffer,” said a representative of Mannino Electric. “The arrays would be wrapped around the southern side of the building.”

Charles Feit, CEO of OnForce, proposed two options, one toward the southeast, more toward Zena Road, and the other along Route 212. Both are designed to minimize tree clearance.

Standard Solar designed a smaller system, mainly to keep it at 100 percent capacity, but it can be changed based on town input, said Gentry Rouse, director of business development.

Solar City simply submitted an overlay of a solar array onto an aerial image. Project Development Manager Ian Diamond explained the engineering is much more involved than that and it was simply to illustrate the array’s footprint. The array can be located where the town wishes.

Mannino Electric, the smallest of the firms, would build the array, then hand it off to another firm who would own and maintain it. Mannino, said the representative, can then focus on quality installations.

Standard Solar, while slightly larger with about 70 employees, has a similar business model, but focuses on the design, said Rouse. “We are engineering deep.”

OnForce, which started about six years ago “when nobody wanted to do solar in New York,” also builds arrays and turns them over to another party, said Feit. He emphasized the array would pose little liability to the town. “Whoever owns it is going to be responsible for making sure it generates…Your only liability is to purchase the power.”

SolarCity, however, has a different business model. It designs, builds, finances and owns the arrays. Like others, SolarCity does buy panels from China, but it is moving away from that, investing in a massive panel manufacturing plant in Buffalo. SolarCity’s Diamond also touted the speed at which the array could be running, saying it could be under a month. “We actually pride ourselves that we can be in and out of a residence in half a day,” Diamond said.

Addressing questions about any noise or electromagnetic frequencies the array would generate, all answered it would be negligible. “The array itself is silent. The inverters may have a very slight sound from a few feet away,” said the Mannino representative, explaining that inverters convert the direct-current power, or DC, from the solar panels to the alternating current, or AC, on the Central Hudson lines.

“The noise from the treatment plant is probably louder,” Feit added. Diamond, Project Development manager of Solar City, said electromagnetic frequencies are probably more prevalent in the room from the lights than from the array.

Now the only question is how much incentive NYSERDA will give the town if the project is accepted. The first round of funding gets the highest amount, 80 cents a watt, down to 15 cents. Each round of funding gets a lower incentive until eventually the funding is exhausted. The incentive level will significantly impact the PPA contract the winning firm negotiates with the town. That is why, Rouse said, regardless of who gets the contract, the town needs to make a commitment soon.

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