Lewis County reaches final agreement on solar project

By Steve Virkler, Watertown Daily times

LOWVILLE — Lewis County has reached a final agreement on a solar project expected to offer the county and its municipal hospital significant cost savings over the next few decades.

“Our county staff, led by the county manager and county attorney, spent considerable amounts of time to bring us to this point, and they deserve a lot of credit and our thanks,” said Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, chairman of the legislative Ways and Means Committee, in a release Friday announcing the power purchase agreement deal with Greenskies Renewable Energy.

Guaranteed savings to be shared by the county and Lewis County General Hospital over the 20-year term of the contract is $3.3 million, although actual savings is expected to be more than $5 million, the release states.
County officials plan to meet with Ittay Arad, vice president of business development for Greenskies, at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the second-floor chambers at the county office building, North State Street, to formally execute the power purchase agreement.

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. The hope is to have the system operational sometime this fall.

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

Larsen Engineers, a Rochester consulting firm that is assisting the county with the project, last 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.

Greenskies — a smaller firm from Connecticut — came in with an even better offer, leading lawmakers in late November to authorize Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, to sign a power purchase agreement with that firm, pending final negotiations by Mr. Hathway’s committee and county attorney Joan E. McNichol.

“Renewable energy can be a good investment for municipalities, private businesses, non-profits and even homeowners in the county,” Lewis County Economic Development Director Eric J. Virkler said in the county release. “State and federal incentives are available to assist. Lewis County is leading by example and showing that government as well as business can invest in solar renewable energy to reduce costs for the future.”

Mr. Hathway in the release commended Mr. Tabolt and the legislative Economic Development Committee for “encouraging the board to continue its long-term commitment of improving the environment and quality of life for our citizens.”

“During one of the many meetings regarding this, a key player from the hospital said, ‘Even if there were no savings, it’s just the right thing to do,’” the Diana legislator added. “Well said.”