Town mulls solar energy

— Photo provided by Jeff Conrad, SolomonEnergy

Powered by the sun: The town of Guilderland may see solar panels in its near future, as the board considers converting to solar energy in the coming months. A solar energy consultant estimates that the town could save as much as $1.5 million in energy costs over 25 years if it goes solar.

GUILDERLAND — The town is considering harnessing solar energy to power its buildings, and will decide at a board meeting on Jan. 21 whether to move forward with the process.

“It is something that everyone has been talking about moving towards, if at all possible,” Supervisor Kenneth Runion told The Enterprise this week.

Currently, the town of Guilderland spends nearly $500,000 per year on electricity.

A company called SolomonEnergy spent two months exploring the possibilities for bringing solar energy to Guilderland.

“We took the very first cut at looking at the options for solar, to see if there was any potential, and we think there is,” said Jeff Conrad, the vice president of SolomonEnergy.

Now is a good time for the town to go solar, he said, because there are federal and state incentives available, but they are declining.

Runion said the town had consultants, John Hamer, and his son, Michael, who worked through the summer and fall months to help Guilderland bid on energy rates. The Hamers also work with solar energy, and connected the town with SolomonEnergy.

Conrad said there could be a savings of 10 to 50 percent using solar energy instead of electricity, because the power would be produced locally, saving on distribution costs. The cost of solar energy is also projected to increase at a much lower rate, annually, than the cost of electricity, and solar panels are warranted for more than 20 years, eliminating maintenance costs.

If Guilderland agrees to move forward with the plan, it would enter into an agreement with SolomonEnergy, in which the company would act as the town’s consultant in putting out requests for proposals. SolomonEnergy would help the town find a private company to build and manage the solar power equipment, and the town would purchase the power from that company.

The power must be generated by a private company in order to take advantage of the government incentives.

The bulk of the town’s energy expenses, according to Runion, is in the water and sewage treatment plants, because they operate 14 hours per day, seven days per week.

A plan that SolomonEnergy drew up estimates that, over a period of 25 years, the town could save nearly $1.5 million by switching to solar power.

The estimate, said Conrad, was arrived at by calculating the current cost of electricity, roughly 12 cents per kilowatt, and assuming an annual cost increase of 3.75 percent, versus the current cost of solar power, roughly 10 cents per kilowatt, and assuming an annual cost increase of 2.5 percent.

In the past year, the town used 4,320,774 kilowatts of electricity.

SolomonEnergy identified 11 potential sites for solar panel installation in town — Town Hall, on the roof; the Department of Public Works, on the roof; two at the capped landfill, one on the roof and one of the ground; two at the Water Department, one of the roof and one on a carport; three at parks and recreation sites, one on a carport and two on roofs; and two at the golf course, one on the roof and one on a carport.

The carport option, Solomon said, would serve a dual purpose. A carport would be constructed, on which a solar panel could be mounted, but it would also provide shaded parking for vehicles.

“We are in the phase of figuring out where solar would make sense and where it would also be aesthetically pleasing,” said Runion.

Conrad said the proposed sites are only potential, and, if the town moves forward, further investigation on the sites may reveal limiting factors, such as rooftop conditions and geological and environmental issues.

Even if the town does decide to go solar, it will still be connected to the “grid,” said Conrad, as backup.

With a process called net metering, Conrad said, it would be rare that there would not be enough solar power available, even on cloudy days and at night.

“During the day, when the system is producing, you use the power you need, and any excess power generated is banked, with a credit to the town’s account,” said Conrad. “The town can pull from those credits when the system isn’t producing; a lot of credit is banked in the summer.”

“I believe we could get enough solar power to take over all of our electric energy in town,” said Runion, “although we will always have a need for natural gas.”

The town board will decide on Tuesday whether to enter into the agreement with SolomonEnergy, and if it does, said Runion, the process will move quickly, so it can take advantage of the rebates.

“I imagine things would happen over the next three or four months,” he said.

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