Thursday, 06 June 2013 15:18

Saratoga Goes Solar: Two New Solar Parks Put City at Forefront of Energy Movement

By Chelsea DiSchiano | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — With two new solar parks in the process of getting approved, it looks like Saratoga Springs may be at the forefront of New York State’s solar energy movement. 

With the help of an initiative called NY-Sun started by Gov. Cuomo, a program has been developed with the goal of quadrupling the amount of solar farms in 2013. With the new program, it is becoming easier for businesses, schools and cities who would like to build solar farms a chance to fund their projects. NY-Sun will have $432 million in funding available through 2015. 

Because of this new grant opportunity, both Skidmore College and the City of Saratoga Springs now have plans in the works to build their own solar farms. 

After receiving its New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), grant, Skidmore College is planning an eight-acre solar farm on Denton Road by the Polo Association fields. The farm will hold 6,950 solar panels—enough to generate power equal to carbon dioxide emissions from 206,315 gallons of gas consumed and is equal to powering 2,600 average homes. 

The college will work with energy developers Dynamic Energy Solutions to construct and install a two-megawatt solar facility and then enter an agreement with the developers to lease the solar panels and sign a commitment to purchase the solar output of the installation so it can power the college. 

“Assuming all conditions are successfully met, [construction] will be started in the fall and completed in approximately six months,” said Andrea Wise of Skidmore’s Office of Communications. 

The City of Saratoga Springs is also embracing the solar energy movement with a new approach to installing solar panels—by using space on the Weibel Avenue landfill. 

“Using the Weibel Avenue landfill for a solar park is a concept I started working on at the beginning of 2012 based on some knowledge of what was happening across the country at other landfills,” said Larry Toole, board member of Sustainable Saratoga. “We presented this concept to the city council as something the city should look into—it’s good not only for the city’s energy usage, but overall as a community-based project.”

The city, with the help of Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, approved the proposal in February and awarded energy developer SunEdison a bid May 21 in an agreement similar to Skidmore’s—the developer will conduct a feasibility study to ensure the landfill is an appropriate space for a solar park, then when the city receives funding from NYSERDA, the developers will complete the project and then lease out the solar panels back to the city to supply most of its energy needs. 

“Solar panels are some of the best things that can help the city stabilize energy costs and are key for budgeting,” said Madigan. “It’s just all over the board good for the city, and we’ll produce cleaner, greener energy.”

Madigan said the city is expecting the feasibility study to go well and is hoping to get on the ground running so they can apply for funding in August. 

“We’re moving quickly because SunEdison is applying for grant funding from NYSERDA and the next deadline is at the end of August,” Madigan explained. 

Toole said the typical project funding request in today’s market could be anywhere from $750,000 to $1 million.

“A lot of these types of projects request a little under 80 cents to a dollar per watt of installation, so if it’s going to be a one-megawatt array, we might be requesting somewhere from $750,000 to $1 million, depending,” Toole said. “That funding, along with the funding provided by the developer, will be able to purchase all the equipment and labor necessary.” 

Once the city receives the grant, it could break ground on the project as early as this fall and be producing up to one or even two megawatts of energy by early 2014. 

“Once it’s finished, the solar park will provide the city with most of its energy needs,” Madigan said. “It’ll help power buildings like the ice rink, city hall and the recreation center.”

There is a big difference between Skidmore’s solar plan and the city’s: once the first phase of the city’s plan—leasing the panels to provide energy for city buildings—a second phase will begin which, if approved, could possibly allow city residents to lease out their own panels to provide solar energy for their homes. 

“Phase two expands on the concept to community solar energy,” Toole said. “Many households in Saratoga might have rooftops that aren’t facing the right direction or have too many trees shading the house, so residents interested in putting solar energy on their houses could purchase their own capacity at the Weibel Avenue landfill—panels are assigned to you producing energy for you and the energy produced would offset the electricity usage of your house.”

But there is an issue with conducting Phase Two—the concept of remote net metering isn’t applicable for every situation, meaning the city will have to work with the state to see if it will be appropriate for the Weibel Avenue location. 

“We’re hoping ... we can have a virtual electrical meter situation at the landfill,” Toole said. “In the meantime, we’ll position ourselves to take advantage of that when that changes.”

“If that doesn’t happen, then there may be other usage or ways to put additional solar panels in there and rethink Phase Two, but we hope that we can move forward.”

Until then, with no cost to Saratoga taxpayers, Madigan said their new solar model is one to follow.

“It’s a very interesting model,” she said. “I think [Saratoga] is definitely at the forefront with this solar park and I think we’re giving villages and towns a great model to look at.”

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