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November 15, 2016 - 1:46pm

County Legislature still grappling with county's possible solar future

posted by Howard B. Owens in solar energy, news.

Local legislators are still grappling with whether solar power should be part of county government's energy future.

The topic has come up before, first when Solar City offered a proposal that legislators decided too heavily favored Solar City's interests, and then when consultants from Wendel Energy were interviewed for a possible consulting contract.

Wendel isn't a solar contractor, and wouldn't build any solar installation, but it can do the initial study to help the county determine the best potential location, the cost benefits and potential expense pitfalls.

Representatives from Wendel -- Adam Tabelski, Sam Marotta and Keith Krug -- met again with the Public Service Committee on Monday to discuss a possible contract for a feasibility study.

County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens, himself an engineer, said he thought hiring a consultant like Wendel made a lot of sense.

"There are so many pieces," Hens said. "You have a lot of pieces that are really complex and outside of our staff's expertise."

Whether a solar installation could save the county money and help reduce energy costs is something Wendel would have to figure out, based on the size and location of the installation and the county's energy needs.

The committee concluded the discussion with, basically, "we'll think about it."

Areas of concern raised by members of the Legislature include the cost of interconnection with National Grid, whether technology installed now will be outdated in a few years, and whether a solar farm is the best option compared to rooftop installations.

Legislator Bob Bausch said he heard that Orleans County started down the path of a solar installation, but found National Grid's interconnection fees too expensive.

Krug said the interconnection fees weren't really the issue in Orleans County. The decision to drop the project had more to do with tight deadlines for grants to help fund the project.

Marotta said one issue they've seen come up in other jurisdictions is that contractors bid for a solar project, but to help keep the bid low, underestimate the interconnection fees, but then when National Grid comes back later with the actual cost of interconnection, the contractor informs the local government the cost of the installation has gone up.

This can turn some projects from profitable to unprofitable.

Wendel's practice is to try and accurately estimate National Grid's fees, and since Wendel isn't the contractor for the project, has nothing to gain by underestimating that cost.

A potential location for a county-owned solar farm is just north of the airport and Legislator Shelly Stein wondered whether that's really a better option than rooftop installation.

Marotta said he generally recommends a solar farm approach because it's cheaper to install and cheaper to maintain, especially when older roofs are involved.

"For simplicity sake, if you have the land available, we recommend land," Marotta said. "It's easier to maintain. It's a weed wacker instead of a roofer."

Stein also noted that Solar City's Elon Musk recently announced plans to develop roof tiles that double as solar panels and wondering if that would be an option.

That technology isn't yet in the market and Hens noted that, yes technology is going to change, but waiting to do someting would be akin to not buying office computers in the 1990s because technology was going to change.

Brian Graz
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Joined: Sep 18 2010 - 4:57pm

Maybe contacting Joseph Percoco, LPCiminelli, and COR Development would be the ticket... ?

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