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Callicoon compromise

Board pursues scaled down solar project


JEFFERSONVILLE, NY — After criticizing solar technology for two hours, calling solar panels too expensive, too maintanence intensive and too vulnerable, members of the board members of the town board took a reluctant step toward using solar power in the Town of Callicoon. At the town meeting on January 12, the board voted unanimously to re-bid the project, but only the portion to be sited at the town barn. Additionally, instead of being mounted on the roof, the solar panels would be installed on poles buried in the ground.

The board rejected placing panels on the town barn roof after receiving a letter from the engineer who oversaw the construction of the town barn which said that the warranty for the roof of the building, which was constructed several years ago, might be voided. Another concern was that the roof would not support the weight of the panels without reinforcement.

John Calhoun, the engineer who wrote the requests for proposals (RFP) for the initial solar project, told the board that both problems could be overcome without too much trouble, but the board rejected the idea of moving in that direction.

According to supervisor Linda Babicz, who has been vigorously pursuing the solar installations, if the scaled-down project moves past the RFP phase, the $125,000 grant from assemblywoman Aileen Gunther would still be available. However, the approximately $247,000 in rebates from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) would be substantially less than initially projected because less electricity would be produced.

The vote came after Babicz led a prolonged discussion about the various attributes of solar and funding during which many of the concerns that had been raised in the past were rebutted. Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, for instance, in a letter to the board, explained that the grant she had promised was not going to disappear. She wrote that similar grants had been used to help finance the firehouses in Roscoe and Livingston Manor, as well as new sidewalks in Livingston Manor.

Council members had also raised concerns that phone poles and utility lines in front of the town hall would reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the solar panels proposed for that building and thus reduce the amount of rebates offered by the NYSERDA. Calhoun said the amount of shading on the roof was minimal and would not impact the amount of NYSERDA rebates.

The question of a baseball hitting the panels on the town hall from a ballpark across the street remained a concern for Howard Fuchs, who recounted a phone conversation with a solar expert who said that panels were tested to withstand hail but not baseballs. Calhoun suggested that perhaps an enlarged backstop at the park could mitigate the possible negative impacts from possible foul balls.

According to Calhoun, the town hall is very well suited to a solar installation in terms of its roof slope and its orientation to southern exposure. But his arguments could not sway four of the five board members who remained opposed to considering any solar installation at the town hall, and also rejected the suggestion that an engineer examine the roof of that building to determine if it were strong enough for the job.

Before the board voted, petitions both for and against solar installations were presented. The pro-solar petition contained 281 signatures, while the anti-solar petition contained 60 signatures. Fuchs said, however, that the anti-solar petition was not actively circulated.

About 80 residents turned out to the meeting. While some spoke against the solar installations, the clear majority, as at past meetings, was in favor of the installations.

One of the most effective speakers during the public comment period was Cindy Gieger, who, with her husband, owns a farm on Likel Road, which is in the process of being outfitted with 100 solar panels. She said her system will cost $200,000, of which $40,000 is being invested by the couple, with the rest coming from incentives. She said solar was a “clean, responsible, chemical free” way to produce electricity, and to her the decision was a no-brainer.

TRR photo by Fritz Mayer
Engineer John Calhoun explains a proposed solar installation to the Callicoon Town Board on January 12. (Click for larger version)