Lewis County officials hopeful for solar project kickoff in spring

Watertown Daily Times | Steve Virkler
November 16, 2016

LOWVILLE — Lewis County’s planned solar project appears to be on track for an early 2017 kickoff, thanks to some help from the state Public Service Commission.

“We could start construction in the spring like we originally planned,” said Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, chairman of the legislative Ways and Means Committee.

While interconnection issues with the electrical grid had threatened to delay the project, a couple of conference calls with officials from National Grid and the Public Service Commission in the past two weeks seems to have rectified them, Mr. Hathway told his fellow lawmakers Tuesday.

County legislators have approved a power purchase agreement with Greenskies Renewable Energy, Connecticut, that would offer guaranteed savings of $2.86 million over 20 years for Lewis County and its municipal hospital. However, actual savings could be higher than that, depending on fluctuating electric rates and other factors.

Under the deal, Greenskies is to 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 the county still needs to firm up an interconnection agreement with National Grid, it now appears that the cost for needed upgrades to electrical infrastructure should not exceed $250,000 and may be as low as $200,000, while up to $500,000 had been planned for that expense, Mr. Hathway said.

Green Skies is also to cover $87,000 of that expense, so the county share should only come to a maximum of $163,000, he said.

Initial correspondence with National Grid had the county eyeing upgrade costs of more than $700,000 and an 11- to 16-month waiting period before the project could commence, Mr. Hathway said.

“Now, we’re talking three, four, five months and then we’ll be ready to go,” he said.

Mr. Hathway credited Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, and legislators Richard A. Chartrand, D-Lowville, and Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, with getting the Public Service Commission — which regulates providers of electricity and other utilities — involved in the discussions. That, with work by county attorney Joan E. McNichol, has been instrumental in securing more favorable terms, he said.

Mr. Chartrand and Mr. King discussed the solar project with other attendees at a recent intergovernmental session in Lake Placid and learned that utility-related issues were not uncommon, Mr. Tabolt said.

The chairman said a subsequent discussion with Mr. Chartrand about the trip prompted him to call a contact he has at the Public Service Commission, and officials from that agency have since made recommendations that will significantly reduce costs to the county and allow the project to move forward.

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

If and when the solar project becomes operational, Greenskies 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, the largest that may be built under a New York State Energy and Development Authority subsidy program, should meet roughly half the electricity needs of the county and Lewis County General Hospital, county officials have said.