Lewis County moving forward with solar project

Published November 23, 2015
By STEVE VIRKLER, Watertown Daily Times

LOWVILLE — It looks like nothing but green skies for Lewis County and its municipal hospital on a solar project expected to offer significant cost savings over the next few decades.

Following an executive session discussion, lawmakers on Thursday by an 8-0 vote authorized Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, to sign a power purchase agreement with Greenskies Renewable Energy, pending approval by county attorney Joan E. McNichol. Legislators Larry L. Dolhof, R-Lyons Falls, and Neil H. Pepper, R-Brantingham, were absent.

“It’s just kind of like free money,” said Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, chairman of the legislative Ways and Means Committee.

Under the plan, the developer would construct a 2-megawatt solar array on about 19 acres behind the county Public Safety Building on outer Stowe Street, then sell relatively low-cost power to the county for 20 years.

While county officials will be able to monitor the system, Greenskies would take care of ongoing maintenance at no county expense, Mr. Hathway said.

He declined to discuss specific figures in the deal until the contract is signed, but said county officials expect it to happen fairly quickly

The hope is to have the system operational sometime in fall 2016, Mr. Hathway said.

Larsen Engineers, a Rochester consulting firm that is assisting the county with the project, earlier this year received purchase agreement bids from four companies, and a resolution had been prepared to start negotiations with the most favorable bidder, California firm SolarCity. However, one of the other firms submitted a last-minute revised proposal, leading county officials to decide to give all four firms another chance to make a better offer.

And according to Mr. Hathway, Greenskies — a smaller firm from Connecticut — came in with an even better offer.
“It just shows any time you put things out to bid, the best numbers come through,” Mr. Tabolt said.

The county also started working on the project soon enough that it will not be affected by changing state regulations that would have reduced the financial benefit, Mr. Hathway said. “We’re just fortunate that we got in when we did,” he said.

SolarCity’s proposal had projected a 30-year savings of $7.54 million, but Mr. Hathway had said a worst-case scenario — assuming virtually no inflation or increase in National Grid rates — would have still shown a roughly $3 million benefit.

Legislators on Thursday also passed a resolution commending retiring County Clerk Douglas P. Hanno for his years of service.

“You have done an awful lot for the county,” said Mr. Hathway, who introduced the resolution.
Since starting the job in January 2000, Mr. Hanno has worked to digitize records and consistently endeavored to retain the highest level of professional and courteous customer service, particularly at the motor vehicle office, as the best practice to counter efforts from the state level to usurp local revenue through the ease of on-line services,” the resolution states.

He was also commended for his community service, including instituting “Hot Dog Days” at the courthouse and handling grilling duties for more than 30 such luncheons, raising more than $16,500 for local charities and individuals in need.