Connecticut firm named solar developer for LI schools

By Mark Harrington
Newsday

New York State has awarded a potentially multimillion-dollar contract to a Connecticut company to be the approved installer of solar panels for Long Island schools.

Greenskies Renewable Energy, a commercial solar developer from Middletown, Connecticut, becomes one of three approved vendors in the state for the program, known as K-Solar. The previous Long Island developer, SunEdison, filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

Greenskies will work with school districts in northern and central New York, and on Long Island, where 62 separate districts representing hundreds of school buildings have expressed interest in the program, according to the New York Power Authority, which administers the program.

Under NYPA’s K-Solar program, schools bypass state Education Department bidding requirements by using the approved developers. K-Solar provides schools free technical assessments, educational programs and up to 40 percent energy-cost discounts, said Evan Kolkos, manager of customer business development for renewable energy at NYPA.

Schools host the solar panels on rooftops or school grounds but don’t own the systems. Instead, they receive the discounted energy at prices that vary by region, NYPA said.

Some local solar installers have weighed in against K-Solar.

“I don’t think the state should be in the business of selecting companies for school-district procurement,” said David Schieren, CEO of Empower Solar in Island Park. Instead, he said, the state should provide a better framework for districts to do the bids themselves. He and others already work with schools and third parties to help reduce energy use and costs, and help finance purchase of the systems.

Kolkos said NYPA examined various methods for solar in schools and came up with the K-Solar model, which leaves the developer as the owner of the systems. “Direct ownership is very challenging” for schools, he said, because they aren’t eligible for federal tax credits, among other factors.

K-Solar has seen a slow rollout since being introduced in January 2014. Just 25 of the state’s 700 districts have signed 48 contracts for systems. Thus far only one project is built and prepared for connection. Kolkos said the authority expects interest to pick up now that Greenskies is in place for the region. More than 380 districts have registered to receive information about K-Solar, he said.

Greenskies didn’t return a call seeking comment.

After bankrupt SunEdison dropped out as the Long Island preferred vendor last May, SolarCity, which is already the preferred developer for New York City, the Hudson Valley and the Albany region, was the state’s sole vendor. Another new vendor, Solar Liberty, a Buffalo-based developer, this week was named the preferred developer for Western New York and the Southern Tier.

SolarCity is in contract with an unspecified Long Island school district to put systems on two area schools, NYPA said. Already, Kolkos said, 60 of the more than 120 districts on the Island have expressed interest.

Greenskies, considered among the largest developers for schools in Connecticut, won a competitive bid for the project administered by NYPA, which expects the company will rely on local companies, including engineering firms and electrical work, to help complete the projects.