It's always sunny in Hoosick Falls

Saturday January 12, 2013


Staff Writer

HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- There's plenty of sunshine for all as the pace of local solar installations quickens.

Of private residences, businesses, and public entities, the latest to look toward the sun is the village of Hoosick Falls. Trustee David Borge said the idea formed with a walk past one of the municipality's water plants last fall. With a vacant roof and plenty of southerly exposure, Borge said he thought to himself, "Hey, it's just sitting there."

With neighboring municipalities in talks or with solar photovoltaic (PV) systems already set up, "clearly it's something to look at," Borge said Wednesday by telephone.

Borge and fellow Trustee Jeremy Driscoll began identifying options late last year, speaking to solar companies and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. NYSERDA administers programs promoting efficiency and renewable energy and has seen a spike in solar development in recent years driven by financial incentives.

Among those with solar arrays added over the past year have been Jeff Wysocki, a dairy farmer and Hoosick town councilman whose farm is located along Route 22; the neighboring town of Pittstown which recently had an array installed atop a highway department garage; and the Berlin Fire Department, which added panels to the firehouse last August. (In Cambridge, solar is also being explored as part of a new firehouse project.)

In Vermont, the town of Bennington is in the midst of talks for one of two possible locations. And that's not to mention private residences and large-scale commercial enterprises like the 2.2 MW facility under construction at Pownal's Southern Vermont Energy Park.

In its most recent spending plan, Hoosick Falls budgeted $200,000 for electricity, of which the waste water and water treatment plants consume a sizable portion. "Anything we can save off of that is significant," said Borge.

Because solar tax incentives for homeowners and businesses are not available to municipalities, potential routes for the village include the outright purchase of a system (requiring an upfront investment) or a Solar Power Purchase Agreement (SPPA) with a solar provider. The latter option would carry no initial cost, have a set term of typically 10 or 20 years, and could defray upwards of 30 percent of Hoosick Falls' annual energy costs, according to Borge.

The Environmental Protection Agency characterizes SPPAs as a financial contract between the developer and host customer where the "customer buys the (power) produced by the PV system rather than the PV system itself." Under the agreement, similar to a lease, the village agrees to purchase the electricity at a lower cost and would not own, operate, or maintain the PV system.

Such an arrangement recently resulted in a PV system atop Countryside Woodcraft in Hoosick. That array sits flat with the slope of the roof facing Route 7. Furniture store co-owner Jason Reinford said the array was added following research after employees arrived one morning to a brochure stuck in the door.

With no upfront cost, "we were like, ‘What can we lose?'" Reinford said Friday. With a 10-year contract with Monolith Solar Associates, LLC, of Rensselaer, the store is conservatively estimated to save about 25 percent, or on average $300 a month, on its utility bills over the course of a year. Through the month of November 2011 (the first full month of production) the store's array produced 2,044 kWh despite short daytime hours.

Beatrice Berle, the owner of a 600-acre organic farm, said a 7.74 kW installation at her Hoosick farm has exceeded expectations since being purchased and installed in December 2010. "It has really enabled the whole business to carry on," she said, reducing summer energy bills by $600 to $800 monthly and supplying over 75 percent of the farm's total energy needs. She said the system had also resulted in more consciousness about energy use at the farm.

Schools in New York are also intrigued, although they face unique constraints given state aid that currently will only pay for smaller, demonstration-type arrays. An approved efficiency project at Cambridge Central School, funded through an energy performance contract similar to the SPPA, includes a 2.2 kW installation intended mainly for curriculum.

Borge said the hope was to move forward this year. "As soon as you start, you're going to be saving money."

Berle's advice? "I encourage rooftop." Every future roof should be built to support the load, she said.

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