Going solar? City approaches BOE about buying power

The Gloversville Enlarged School District may benefit from a planned solar project at the former Gloversville landfill according to details provided to the Board of Education on Monday by Mayor Vincent DeSantis and Ameresco Senior Development Manager Steve McDonough. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — The Gloversville Enlarged School District may benefit from a planned solar project at the former city landfill after city officials learned that the project will generate more energy than required to power city facilities and approached the district to potentially share in the cost saving energy.

Mayor Vincent DeSantis appeared before the GESD Board of Education on Monday with Ameresco Senior Development Manager Steve McDonough to provide details on the community solar project the energy company will construct at the former city landfill located in the town of Johnstown.

The city awarded a contract to Ameresco Inc. in August for construction of a solar energy collection and electricity generation and distribution system at the former landfill on East Fulton Street Extension that was previously remediated and capped.

“It can’t be used for anything, that surface, so it’s perfect for this solar array,” DeSantis said.

The project will utilize about 25 acres or half of the landfill for the installation of over 17,000 solar panels capable of generating 8.5 MWh. Ameresco will connect the array to National Grid power poles and sell the generated power to the utility company.

Ameresco will own the solar equipment and will lease the landfill space from the city for $15,000 per year. Additionally, the community solar project will reduce the energy cost of participating subscribers by providing credits on the National Grid bills of these individuals or organizations based on the generated energy.

“Ameresco guarantees a 10 percent reduction,” DeSantis said.

As part of the agreement between the city and Ameresco, the municipality will receive 40 percent of the available energy credits produced through the project applied to powering city buildings and utilities while the remaining 60 percent will be available to city residents or business owners who subscribe to the program.

“It turns out that after looking at the energy that the city uses, we use only about 15 percent of the energy that’s going to be generated by this facility,” DeSantis said.

This energy use will likely be further reduced as the city is currently pursuing options to purchase city streetlights from National Grid to then convert the fixtures to LEDs. The Common Council approved a resolution to solicit proposals for the streetlight conversion during the June 25 meeting.

“[That] will result in a 74 percent reduction in energy usage to light our streets and hopefully that construction will take place at the end of this year,” DeSantis said. “So that takes us down to about 8 percent of all the energy that’s going to be generated from this, so that leaves a remaining 30 to 32 percent that we’re not going to be using and we felt that the school district could use that and take advantage of that savings.”

McDonough noted that there would be no up front cost to the district to participate in the community solar project that is expected to be in operation in May 2020.

“We’re going through the process right now to make sure that everything is in place so it will get built and potentially starting construction in October,” McDonough said, noting Ameresco has already reached an interconnection agreement with National Grid that will be finalized in August.

“We’re in the process of doing all of the state, local and federal permitting. We’ve met with the planning department at the town of Johnstown, they don’t anticipate any issues and we feel confident that we’ll get all of the environmental permits,” McDonough added.

McDonough estimated that the share of the generated energy reductions the school district would receive equal 57 percent of the district’s current energy consumption.

“The first year of savings is expected to be $111,000 first year with a 25 year projected savings of about $2.6 million,” McDonough said.

The only cost to the district would come in the form of payments to Ameresco of $0.07 per kWh produced by the project that would be offset by a credit of $0.114 per kWh used on the district’s National Grid bill.

“You’re buying electricity how you’ve always bought electricity, but you’re just getting in this case an 11.4 cent credit on your bill,” McDonough noted.

When asked about any potential risk from the project, McDonough said the only variable is the cost of energy from National Grid.

“That cost could go up or down, the energy value can fluctuate, but how much can energy go down,” McDonough said.

Based on the information presented by McDonough, the Board of Education indicated to Superintendent David Halloran their willingness to consider an agreement from Ameresco to be reviewed by the school district’s attorneys and financial advisor for possible board approval in August.

Following the meeting, Halloran signaled his initial support for an agreement between the school district and Ameresco to participate in the community solar project.

“I think it’s a good opportunity, the risk is minimal to me. Unfortunately I don’t see some energy creation coming down the road that’s going to make this obsolete. I think the savings that could be had are genuine,” Halloran said. “We will do our due diligence and ensure that the contract is not putting the district at any risk.”

Halloran noted that he hopes to see the district increasing its use of technology in classrooms in the near future which would likely require the district to use more energy, making the potential cost saving measure all the more valuable.

“I think our usage is going to go up as we increase use of technology in all of our schools, because our classrooms still do not have the amount of technology that is required in education today,” Halloran said. “That $100,000 savings in year one for nothing on our end, but to say, ‘sure, we’ll take cheaper energy,’ I kind of feel it would be foolish not to do it.”