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Solar panels may be in Tusten’s future

Berlin Township, PA installed solar panels on the township’s community building in 2010, and town officials have been pleased with the performance.
TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

By Isabel Braverman
January 22, 2014

NARROWSBURG, NY — At the January meeting of the Tusten Town Board, Brandi Merolla and Star Hesse of the Tusten Energy Committee (TEC) made a presentation to the board about the possibility of the town using solar panels to power its buildings and possibly its streetlights. Their presentation included some of the choices that have to be made, such as whether the town should lease or buy the solar panels and where to put them.

The solar panels would power the town hall, town barn and the water and sewer building. TEC has contacted three solar companies to get their opinions. They said the panels do not need snow removal and that they are silent, durable and easy to maintain. Hesse and Merolla listed the pros and cons of leasing versus buying.

With a town-owned operating system, the town would pay the upfront cost to set up the solar panels and maintain it. The pro is that the town would own renewable energy credits that it could sell to other towns, which would bring income to the town. It would also lower energy costs and lower taxes. One way to help defray the upfront cost of the panels is through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which gives out funds as an incentive to produce solar energy. The cons are that the upfront costs are very steep; they could be up to $600,000. Only a minor amount of that would be offset by NYSERDA and other grants. The town would be responsible for the maintenance and repair of the system. Another con is that the money from the sale of renewable energy credits could be delayed for three years. However, longer term there is considerable money to be made.

The other option would be to lease the solar panel system, through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The town would put out bids for contractors to build and operate a solar energy array. The pros are that there are no start-up costs and the company would be responsible for maintaining the system. Typical leases would be between 10 and 20 years. The TEC’s recommendation is to go with the longer lease. The con is that the owner of the system gets the tax credits, not the town, and the town has no energy credits to sell.

Both options would lower the town’s electricity bill and carbon footprint.

For leasing agreements, the town has to be careful that the leasing company is reputable. It would also need someone who knows how to write very specific language for the request for proposal (RFP) to potential leasing companies. Hesse said that this is “essential to ensure a successful and mutually satisfactory agreement.”