Solar energy project approved for Gloversville landfill

Could save city $1.88M over the next 20 years

The Common Council approved a resolution Tuesday awarding a contract to Ameresco, Inc. for a solar project at the city's former landfill in the Town of Johnstown that is expected to save the city an estimated $1.88 million over 20 years. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — The city awarded a contract for a solar project at the former landfill Tuesday nearly three years after a bid awarded for another project at the site failed to materialize.

The Common Council approved a resolution awarding a contract to Ameresco, Inc. for a solar energy collection and electricity generation and distribution system at the former city landfill in the town of Johnstown during Tuesday’s meeting.

The city put out a request for proposals for the project in June receiving only one response from Ameresco, a national energy company with offices located in Albany.

The project will utilize about half of the landfill for the installation of 17,820 solar panels mounted four high on concrete ballasts set on the landfill cap. Ameresco will perform a geotechnical analysis with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to ensure the landfill is not disrupted and the cap is maintained.

The company will connect the array to National Grid power poles and sell the solar power to the city at a 20 year fixed rate of $.067 per kilowatt hour. According to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority the average cost of energy statewide was $.185 per kilowatt hour in May.

Ameresco will own the solar equipment and will lease the landfill space from the city for $15,000 per year. The company will monitor the site remotely, perform routine maintenance on equipment and provide upkeep at the landfill, including mowing.

The project will participate in the NYSERDA Megawatt Block Program, an incentive plan that subsidizes installation costs regionally based on the amount of energy produced. Projects participating in the community solar project are capped at production rates of 5 megawatts of power, the landfill project will produce 4.98 megawatts.

Of the power generated by the project, 40 percent will be sold to the city for municipal buildings and utilities, completely meeting the city’s current usage rates. The remaining 60 percent of the solar energy will be sold at a reduced rate to city residents who subscribe to the program.

If the program is not fully subscribed to by city residents, Ameresco will market the program to Fulton County residents, followed by out of county residents.

Ameresco has estimated the project will save the city about $1.88 million on electricity costs over 20 years, factoring in land lease payments. Savings in the first year of the project are estimated at $97,934.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Dayton King related to the council that he had spoken to leaders from other municipalities in the state that contracted with Ameresco for solar projects and received positive feedback.

“I talked to four people and they’re all very excited about it,” King said. “I asked if they saw the savings and they said yeah, [Ameresco] followed through on everything they said they were going to.”

Fourth Ward Councilman Steven Smith noted that he and Councilman-at-Large Vincent DeSantis met with Ameresco Project Development Manager Jack Honor to discuss the project, saying he felt the meeting went well and all of their questions had been answered.

“I think it’s probably to the advantage to the city, the landfill property right now is just sitting out there doing nothing, if we can put some power out there that saves us $1.88 million, it’s a win for the city,” Smith said.

The city will be responsible for some of the project costs, including the cost of connecting the solar array to National Grid’s existing power poles at the landfill entrance which will be dependent on the utility company, the specifications of the power grid and any necessary upgrades to support the system. The cost is estimated at $300,000, but that amount rate will not be set until a study has been completed by National Grid.

According to Smith, Honor said the council could terminate the contract at no cost to the city if the connection cost exceeds their expectations, making the project unfeasible.

“He said if it comes out to be something else, we’ll talk to you, whether it’s up or down, and we can adjust as necessary or you can just wash the deal,” Smith said.

The city was awarded a $100,000 Clean Energy Communities Program grant by NYSERDA about two years ago that will contribute to project costs.

The Common Council voted 5-0 to award the solar power contract to Ameresco. Third Ward Councilwoman Elizabeth Batchelor and Fifth Ward Councilman Jay Zarrelli were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Following contract approval, Ameresco will begin electrical engineering work for the project, file for approval to connect with National Grid, begin negotiating a lease and power purchase agreement, apply for a permit to modify the landfill with the DEC and begin design work for the project that will be subject to approval by the town of Johnstown Planning Board. Construction of the project is expected to begin next spring.

The city previously awarded a contract for construction of a solar project at the former landfill to SolarCity, a subsidiary of Tesla, in 2015. The council voted to extend that contract in April 2017 with an expected operation date for the project of March 14.

King said Wednesday the agreement with SolarCity never made it past the discussion phase and the contract had ended.

“We’re out of that contract. I wish it could have worked out, but it didn’t,” King said.

He is hopeful about the new agreement with Ameresco given their proposal and the response from other municipalities the company has completed projects for.

“I’m excited any time we can have an opportunity to increase revenue into our budget and offer services to our residents without increasing taxes,” King said. “There’s really no other use for the site, it’s a perfect place to put solar panels.”

“We’re doing this where really no one’s going to be able to see them and it’s going to be a benefit to city taxpayers,” he added.