At its February 17 meeting, the Woodstock Town Board announced its intent to award a bid to OnForce Solar to build a 603 kilowatt photovoltaic array at the wastewater treatment plant on Route 212, east of the main hamlet. The town hopes the project, which will offset the vast majority of energy used at town-owned properties, makes a bold statement in support of sustainable alternative energy.
“All these companies that made submissions are good companies,” said supervisor Jeremy Wilber, noting it was a tough choice,
Besides Bronx-based OnForce, Standard Solar of Rockville, Md., Solar City of San Mateo, Calif., and Mannino Electric of Poughkeepsie responded to a request for proposals in November. Mannino dropped out early in the process because it could not compete on cost, Wilber said. The intent to award means the town can pull the plug if it determines OnForce won’t be able to honor commitments stated in the bid.
The array should provide 718,000 kilowatt hours per year. Last year, the town used 729,823 kWh.
The OnForce array is part of a 20-year power purchase agreement, or PPA, meaning the town’s only cost is the purchase of electricity from OnForce or its subsidiary. The company bears the full cost of construction and maintenance.
The solar array won’t directly supply the town facilities. Instead, it will feed into the grid and Central Hudson will credit the town’s bills based on how much power is generated. The town will then agree to purchase from OnForce the number of kilowatt hours generated by the array.
What still needs to be worked out is the accounting, since town facilities are split over dozens of accounts paid through various revenue sources. For example, user fees pay the electricity bills for the wastewater treatment plant, by far the largest energy user, while the Town Hall bills are paid through tax revenue.
While cost savings weren’t the intention, OnForce’s price of 9.3 cents per kWh is a savings over the average 10.16 cent supply charge the town pays to Central Hudson. Demand, delivery and meter charges will change very little, Wilber said. The savings over Central Hudson per kWh comes in part from a 3.6 cent-per-kWh incentive from the New York State Energy Resource Development Authority, or NYSERDA, to encourage municipalities and individuals to pursue alternative energy.
“Based on Central Hudson’s 2014 rates, had this been built last year, our electricity costs would have been less with two of the four proposals, including OnForce,” Wilber said. “Really what was at the core of this thing was green energy.”
The agreement will cost the town slightly more for small accounts, such as the pavilion and pool at Andy Lee Field, but will save money with larger accounts such as the treatment plant, town offices on Comeau Drive, Town Hall, the highway garage and Mescal Hornbeck Community Center.
Further savings come from a yearly two percent escalator in OnForce’s price, compared to Central Hudson which has risen four percent per year for the past seven years, according to Wilber. OnForce’s price has no qualifications and the company provides a production guarantee, two reasons why it was chosen. “If the system does not meet production guarantees, the town will be reimbursed at the kilowatt rate charged by Central Hudson,” OnForce’s proposal says.
The company also proposes to remove 3.5 acres of vegetation from the site, while Standard Solar proposed to remove 6.5 acres. Solar City did not provide an estimate.
Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli said she was inclined to go for Solar City’s proposal, since it proposed 8.98 cents per kWh. But its array had a lower capacity, meaning the town would have to make up the difference with Central Hudson’s higher rates. Also, it’s site plans weren’t as detailed.
“My first choice was also Solar City,” Councilman Ken Panza said. “But I can understand what my colleagues are saying. I do it with a bit of reluctance.”
OnForce CEO Charles Feit thanked the board for its decision and looks forward to working with the town. Solar City Project Development Manager Ian Diamond thanked the town for the opportunity to participate in the process. “It’s good for the town. It’s good for the taxpayer. It’s good for all of us,” he said of the decision.
Wilber commended the competing companies for being gracious to each other during the process and said it was a “learning process” for the town.
Wilber cautions that there is more to be done
“I’m very happy Niagara made the decision they did, but that joy is not unmitigated,” Wilber said, noting the issue has exposed “serious problems” with infrastructure in surrounding communities. The issue “brings to the fore just how necessary it is for government to be government.”
Wilber believes the bottling plant proposal came to life partly because the city of Kingston is faced with a crisis situation in which it is facing $18 million in needed repairs to its water system and the sale of water to Niagara would have helped finance that cost.
The aging infrastructure became frighteningly apparent February 17, when a 100-year-old major supply line on Sawkill Road burst, leaking an estimated 4 million gallons per day.
“These are economic stresses. To them, it looked like, gee, this is our ticket out of these problems. It began with a very serious need for money,” Wilber said.
Save Cooper Lake organizers Liz Simonson and Cambiz Khosravi asked how they could help the town make sure another Niagara doesn’t come along. Wilber suggested the town and groups like Save Cooper Lake and the Woodstock Land Conservancy put pressure on politicians to find money to fix aging infrastructure so municipalities don’t look to big corporations to fix their problems.
Wilber said he is working with environmental attorney Jim Baker who was hired defend the town’s rights in the Niagara discussions. “I think that any companies that use vast quantities of water are going to think very hard before coming here,” Wilber said.
But he cautioned that while there are advantages to being proactive, there are also potential pitfalls. It could attract attention from other companies who are willing to put up more of a fight, he said.
California-based Niagara Bottling had proposed to build a water bottling plant near Tech City in the town of Ulster and purchase up to 1.7 million gallons of water from Cooper Lake, which is the main source for the city of Kingston. Niagara pulled the proposal February 13, but did not cite a specific reason.