Lewis solar project kicks off, completion expected later this year

By Steve Virkler
Watertown Daily Times

LOWVILLE — Lewis County's solar project has kicked off a little later than planned, but couty officials say they still expect the array to start providing low-cost power before the end of the year.

“The goal is still to be up and running this fall,” County Manager Ryan M. Piche said.

Greenskies Renewable Energy this week has begun delivering equipment and materials to a field adjacent to the county Public Safety Building on outer Stowe Street, and that is expected to continue for at least the next couple weeks, along with site work, county Planning Director Frank J. Pace said.

“From here on in, the project moves forward,” he said.

County officials have signed a power purchase agreement with Greenskies that is to offer guaranteed savings of $2.86 million over 20 years for Lewis County and its municipal hospital.

Under the deal, Greenskies is to construct a 2-megawatt array on about 19 acres behind the Public Safety Building, just across a stream from where the equipment staging is occurring, then sell relatively low-cost power for 20 years. However, actual savings could be higher than that, depending on fluctuating electric rates and other factors.

The company is to charge 7.9 cents per kilowatt hour, well under the 12.3 cents per kilowatt hour the county is now paying, with a guarantee that actual production would be at least 90 percent of the company estimate each year.

The array is expected to meet about half the electricity needs of the county and Lewis County General Hospital, and the project is being aided by a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority program.

Mr. Pace said issues with some equipment caused Greenskies to start deployment later in the summer than planned.

However, Mr. Piche said the county’s expectation is that the array will still be ready for use by the end of November, when National Grid has indicated it will connect it to the electrical grid.

Some measures are being taken to speed up the construction process, including plans to use a crane to move equipment to the other side of the stream rather than building a bridge as initially planned, he said.

Legislator Craig R. Brennan, R-Deer River, chairman of the legislative Ways and Means Committee, said he is hopeful that the renewable company will still be able to meet its completion goal with a more aggressive installation schedule.

“Time is of the essence to receive the savings,” he said.

Greenskies officials, after signing a contract with the county in January 2016, were initially hoping to complete the project later that year. However, delays caused them to push back the timetable and ultimately secure less grant funding, so the company renegotiated its contract to offer lower guaranteed savings than originally planned.

Last fall, county officials were also concerned that interconnection issues with National Grid could delay the project. However, with the assistance of state Public Safety Commission officials, the county was able to negotiate an agreement with the utility that was both within budget and kept the project on schedule.