The Town of Bethlehem is continuing to work toward a power purchase agreement that would save on energy costs through the use of solar panels.
Erik Deyoe, the town’s director of public works, gave an update presentation at the Wednesday, Aug. 13, Town Board meeting. The project has been in the works since 2013, after the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority sought applications to find more open sites to install solar panels through the New York Sun Program grant.
The town had previously pledged to become one of 136 “Climate Smart Communities” throughout the state.
“One of the pledge elements is to increase the community’s use of renewable energy,” said Deyoe. “And really, the intent is for us to take local actions to try to reduce our carbon footprint, greenhouse gas emissions and consider how to adapt to changing climate conditions.”
The site to be developed is the former clay mine site on Bridge Street in Selkirk. The panels would be installed on nearly 20 acres of the 80-acre site owned by the town.
Deyoe said 44 percent of the town’s greenhouse gas emissions are due to electricity consumption. The town’s uses about 7.1 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year.
Installation of the solar panels would result in an estimated savings of between $5 million to $7 million over 20 years. The town could save up to $220,000 in the first year.
The town already approved NextEra as the solar developer of the site in March of this year. Deyoe said NextEra would own all the equipment, while the town would continue to maintain and own the site.
Deyoe said the area is mostly vacant, but there are a few neighbors who may have obstructed views once the panels are installed, and the town may need to reach out to them. As a comparison, Deyoe explained the site would look much like the one Owens Corning does now after the solar panels were set up by Constellation Solar Installation.
The project is estimated to cost $8 million, but the town wouldn’t pay any of it. Financing would come through the NYSERDA grant, NextEra and their financing partner. The panels would generate about 4.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year, with the town benefiting through credits from National Grid.
The town and NextEra are now working to finalize the contract. Some of the terms include stipulations that if NextEra wants to terminate the agreement, it must give 180 days notice and restore the site. The company is also working on a fixed rate over the next 20 years.
Councilwoman Julie Sasso asked if the rate is fixed and the contract is for 20 years, could there ever be a situation where the town could be paying for extra energy it doesn’t need. The question was in reference to the Albany water contract and the Selkirk-Cogen payment in lieu of taxes agreement.
Deyoe said he does not believe the town would ever be generating more credits then they have capacity to recoup from National Grid. The town can make adjustments each year of the contract, so it doesn’t pay for more than it can consume. They are also working on a adding a stipulation that would allow the town to end the contract, but NextEra could stay on the site through an easement and possibly sell the energy to someone else.
“Nothing is without any risk, but Erik is giving you some of the comparison points, and we want to come up with some additional energy-saving initiatives,” said Supervisor John Clarkson to the board.
Councilman Bill Reinhardt said he wasn’t concerned about losing the buffer because within the 20-year period, he believed most of the town’s cars would be electric and they would be charged instead of purchasing gasoline.
Town Attorney Jim Potter suggested capping the amount of energy the town purchases based on the current capabilities of what the panels can produce.
Deyoe said NextEra is able to upgrade the technology within the panels, but agreed their condition can deteriorate. He agreed to speak with NextEra about what can be done to make sure the technology stays relevant if new panels are introduced with more efficient capabilities.
Construction is expected to start in early 2015, with the goal of the power purchase agreement approved by the town board on Wednesday, Sept. 10.