In a special meeting last week, the Town Board voted 4-1 to have Bronx-based OnForce build a 600-kilowatt solar array on the grounds of the wastewater treatment plant. The solar panels could provide nearly enough power to offset the energy requirements of most town-run facilities.
And will taxpayers be saddled with the cost of such a massive undertaking? No, the board says, thanks to a power purchase agreement, or PPA.
Supervisor Jeremy Wilber, Councilmen Bill McKenna and Jay Wenk and Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli voted in favor of the PPA. Councilman Ken Panza voted against it citing significant information gaps.
Through a PPA, OnForce owns the array and assumes the cost of building and maintaining the array in exchange for selling the power back to the town. While OnForce stands to make a profit, the town, through energy credits and other incentives, stands to pay less for energy over the 20-year agreement than through Central Hudson.
But Panza, who has done extensive research on PPAs, took issue with some holes in the agreement that, he feels, still need to be addressed. For one, the PPA calls for a “lease area” defining the limits of OnForce’s responsibility, but there’s no reference to the area’s boundaries, Panza said. Also, the contract states the town is not responsible for maintaining access to sunlight within the “lease area,” but a lack of defined boundaries makes it difficult to understand the town’s responsibility, he said. “We’re going to have to clear about seven acres of trees. Those trees are going to grow back after 20 years,” Panza said.
OnForce hasn’t proposed a site plan yet, putting a wrinkle in the town’s eligibility for an incentive program from the New York Energy Reseach and Development Authority, or NYSERDA. To encourage solar energy, the agency has offered an incentive of around 36 cents per watt for constructing the size of array to be built by OnForce. NYSERDA requires a site plan to consider applications for the incentive.
The company factored in that incentive as part of its commitment to 9.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is lower than Central Hudson’s rate of around 10.16 cents.
Approval still needed for planning, construction
Panza also took issue with the lack of input from the town attorney even after much of the contract legalese changed substantially after suggestions from a consultant. Yet another issue still to be resolved is how the array will be connected. One proposal is to have it connected to the meter for the wastewater treatment plant, the town’s largest energy consumer. This way, the town would only pay Central Hudson for power needed beyond what was generated by the array or on a cloudy or rainy day.
Another proposal is to have it connected to Central Hudson’s grid. In this scenario, all power generated by the array gets fed into the Central Hudson network. The town would get all power from Central Hudson and get a credit for the amount of power generated.
If the array is attached to the grid, the town can take advantage of renewable-energy credits, which work in the same way as carbon credits used to maintain a neutral carbon footprint. However, it’s not clear if the Central Hudson substation nearby can withstand the additional power supply provided by the array. According to Panza, it’s at peak capacity now.
Panza has questioned the financial stability of OnForce, a relatively small outfit compared to SolarCity, an industry giant with an established reputation in both commercial and home installations. However, the PPA allows the town to take ownership of the array should OnForce or the array’s current owner go belly-up.
Panza emphasized this is only one step in a major process to include approvals by NYSERDA for both planning and construction.
For its part, the town secured the assistance of Meister Consultants Group, a NYSERDA contractor for input and received several suggestions for additions and deletions. OnForce agreed to all changes.
The board, in its resolution approving the PPA, stated “both parties to the agreement are aware that the next steps to execute the project are for OnForce Solar to provide the town with a detailed site plan, including interconnect plan, defoliation description, and a survey of the lease area which will contain the solar array.”