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December 07, 2016
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More Sullivan solar proposed

MONTICELLO, NY — The buildings, vehicles and transport needs of Sullivan County results in the county releasing 8,674 metric tons of carbon equivalent into the atmosphere every year, expressed as 8,647MTCO2e.

Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development (SASD), which consults with the county on renewable energy projects, is looking at ways to reduce that number, and one way might be to enter into power purchase agreements (PPAs) with private investors who would build solar arrays on county-owned or leased property and sell electricity to the county at significantly reduced prices.

Stephen Stuart and Carol Roig, co-executive directors of SASD, gave a presentation to county legislators on March 6 to go over the options.

The presentation looked at five county-owned buildings with land, such as the government center and the airport. It also considered one site not owned by the county, Lake Superior State Park, for which the county might be able to arrange a long-term lease.

The presentation showed that if solar arrays could be erected at all six locations, the carbon emissions produced by the county could be reduced by 2,954.7 MTCO2e, and the energy produced would be enough to power all of the county-owned buildings.

There was a discussion about whether it would be better for the county to bond, build and own the solar arrays, or instead sign PPAs with investor groups, who would sell electricity at reduced rates.

The second option was preferred by Roig and Stuart, in part because it would involve no upfront cost to the county, and would mean no risk for the county. Further, as a municipality, the county pays no taxes, and therefore can’t take advantage of the various tax breaks offered by the state and federal governments for solar projects. But private investors do pay taxes, and therefore could take advantage of those tax breaks. The private investors would also earn income from selling electricity, at a reduced cost, to the county.

Stuart noted that there are several PPA municipal projects already up and running in other counties in the state.

In Seneca County, an 845kW system, located on the grounds of the Seneca County Law Enforcement Center, was activated. The array was a project to provide 79% of the facility’s electricity needs, which is projected to save the county more than $1 million over the 25-year life of the PPA.

There is some urgency involved in the decision to move forward with the projects, because the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) may soon expire or be exhausted. Further federal tax incentives that currently make PPA solar arrangements attractive to investors may expire in 2016.

Legislator Cora Edwards noted that the solar array in Liberty, behind the Robert Travis Building, with 208 solar panels, serves the county’s needs best because the county gets the electricity from that array for no cost, and the county owns the array. Stuart said that was paid for by grants from various entities and those programs probably no longer exist.

The consensus of the members of the Agriculture and Sustainability Committee was that they wanted to move forward with hearing from investors about specific proposals.