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Wayne Post
  • Newark school board OKs solar plan

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  • NEWARK — The Board of Education unanimously approved going ahead last week with its application to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to fund what would be the district’s portion of a $9.1 million project that would shave electric costs in district buildings and also save money for the Village of Newark and the Town of Arcadia.
    Matthew Rankin, a renewable energy project associate at Larsen Engineers in Rochester, told the school board at its meeting last Wednesday, Aug. 21 that a seven-acre array of power-generating panels would be installed on the site of the abandoned Arcadia landfill off Route 88 north, providing 2.4 megawatt-hours of power for the district, equal to about 60 percent of the school district’s usage. The overall savings in electric costs for the district alone over the 20-year life of the project would be $3.6 million at today’s power rates.
    The application to NYSERDA, with a deadline of Aug 29, would provide one leg, about 30 percent, of the three-corner funding for the project; another 30 percent is expected to come via federal incentives for renewable energy projects (in essence, tax credits), and the last 40 percent will come from a venture capital firm, Kearsage Energy of Watertown, Mass.
    Rankin explained that Kearsage would own the system, O’Connell Electric of Victor would build and operate the power-generating array, and Rankin’s firm would continue to act as the consultant for the district, assisting with approvals and plans.
    “This is very cheap, renewable energy,” Rankin said.
    The district pays close to 10 cents a kilowatt-hour for electric service now; the solar panel array would provide power at about 8.4 cents KWH – at least a 10 percent reduction. That 8.4 cents/KWH is a fixed rate over 20 years, Rankin stressed, while the “grid rate” will vary and could climb substantially, increasing the district’s savings.
    He said the district had choices at the end of the 20-year power purchase agreement that will finalize the project: the district can buy the equipment and continue to operate the array and enjoy the savings; the district can renew the lease on the array, or the district can choose to remove the equipment “at no cost.”
    “If a customer buys out the system, he would contract with a vendor to service the system,’ Rankin said. “That won’t be necessary if the district doesn’t buy the system.”
    Resident Dave Howard, who attended the meeting, cautioned the board that, “if you don’t own it, they own you.”
    He suggested a lease-to-own arrangement, “then you have something of value to keep … or you can garbage it.”
    He recommended against a lease agreement following the initial 20-year project life.
    Board member Joe DeSanto, noting that the district wasn’t spending very much to get all these savings, said everything sounded “too good to be true.” The district would have some expense, mainly lawyer fees to review documentation, but that’s it.
    Page 2 of 2 - “It does sound too good to be true,” Rankin answered. “But this is clean solar energy at a much lower cost.”
    Should NYSERDA give its blessing for the funding, and the feds follow suit, the project would be completed in eight to 12 months. Rankin said the grid-connection agreement alone would take six months.
    Newark Superintendent Matt Cook said the school board would vote separately on naming O’Connell Electric as the contractor for installing the array. And Rankin said the final Power Purchase Agreement was eight months away.
    Board member Tom Ledbetter reminded everyone that the district wanted some educational value out of the solar system. Rankin said O’Connell Electric promises biannual tours for school kids and will offer a scholarship to a graduating senior pursuing a career in renewable energy.
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