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Solar Plant could be installed in Norfolk

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NORFOLK - The Norfolk Town Council is reviewing a proposal for a solar power project that could generate enough power to dramatically reduce the electric bills at the Hepburn Library, the municipal building and the highway garage.

Project leader Tim Opdyke, Northern Lights Energy owner Scott Shipley and consultant Jason A. Clark made their pitch for the installation of a solar generation park on approximately an acre and a half property on Crabb Street at this week’s Norfolk Town Board meeting.

Mr. Shipley has already been involved in having a similar project done in Russell.

Mr. Opdyke and Mr. Shipley originally had discussions about placing solar panels at the library, but after discussion realized the Crabb Street plan was a much more attractive alternative.

“I asked Scott to make a proposal for library solar panels. So Jason and I met with Scott and what we realized, there really wasn’t enough south facing roof surface at the library to do the system we would need,” Mr. Opdyke said.

“I said, ‘Scott, let’s go up here to Crabb Street.’ And Scott came back and we went up to Crabb Street. Tonight, that is our proposal; that a solar installation be put in the ground on Crabb Street. There’s plenty of land, the town owns it. There’s a fairly little used town meter there at the old well house, and we think that that’s an ideal place,” he said.

Mr. Shipley said the plan could benefit the town of Norfolk.

“So if we put a solar system (in Crabb Street), plug it into the electric meter there, first thing that happens is it generates enough electricity for that site, which probably isn’t much because there’s not a lot going on there. Then, the extra electricity can be applied to various buildings of your choosing. Then, depending on how big a solar energy system you put in, you can apply it to other places like the town buildings. So, what you need here is a partnership of people who are interested in using a solar energy system to put it all together,” Mr. Shipley said.

“The panels are largely made by the manufacturers to last for 25 years. There aren’t moving parts in solar panels, they don’t break. Technologys been around for a long time, people have understood the solar effect for a number of years. It’s nothing new. What is new is that the cost of this job has improved in the last few years. It is now cost effective to install your own solar electricity system,” he said.

The proposed solar plant would go underground in an open field near the Norfolk Water Tower.

Mr. Opdyke went into great detail into what the costs would be for the town and the board. The project would be built to generate 50 kilowatts of electricity. He estimated the cost of the project would be in the $187,500 range.

“That’s where most people fold up, turn off the lights and go home, and say thank you very much. But we’re not those people. Our friends at NYSERDA will give us $1,400 per kilowatt up to 50 kilowatts. Beyond that, at the moment they won’t help us. So they’re going to throw in $70,000 and they’re going to take that right off the top and we never have to deal with that. It goes right to the contractor. So now we’re making some money,” Mr. Opdyke said.

“The keys are, obviously what the bid would be. We really want to make this a community event. That doesn’t mean we’re going to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars, rather than just asking a couple of people to do some events and do some publicity, and Jason’s going to be working on that.”

In addition to receiving assistance from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the project could get aid from the Friends of the Norfolk Library and other groups.

Mr. Clark said the Friends could donate approximately $25,000 toward the project, and he would lead a fundraising effort for another $30,000. The project’s backers are also seeking $57,000 from the Norfolk Town Board. Mr. Clark said the annual payback during the term of the short-term loan would be in the $6,500 range for seven to 10 years. He noted with estimates the project could generate $7,000 per year in electrity the plan could save the town $500 in the first year with that savings clmbing to $7,000 per year when the loan was paid off.

Norfolk Town Supervisor Charlie Pernice said the proposal appeared to have merit. “The local library has been losing funding sources. They had money coming from the county. They lost that. Their state funding has been reduced. They are just looking for ways to cut costs. Essentially, with the solar plant, theoretically, if it works the way it’s supposed to work, our electric bills will be essentially nothing, hopefully,” Mr. Pernice said.

“Obviously the town’s going to have a loan, the library’s going to pay their’s up front either through fundraising or using reserves. If this all comes together and everything works the way it’s supposed to, the town’s going to borrow their share of it, essentially pay for it;. Instead of paying an electrical bill, they’ll be paying a loan for the solar plant,” he noted.

The next Norfolk town board meeting is Aug. 12, but Mr. Pernice understands that there is still much work to be done before then. The next steps in the process include more research, getting funds from NYSERDA, and making a trip to Russell to review the recently completed solar project there.

“From the board side of it, we’ve got some more research to do. Obviously you’ve got to do your due diligence to make sure this thing’s going to work the way we feel it’s supposed to. So, the first step; we’re going out for proposals from engineers that have to design it. Probably the biggest hurdle in all of this is making sure NYSERDA funds it as advertised. Without the NYSERDA funding, this is really not a doable thing, only because the costs still exceed the savings. The NYSERDA funding is the biggest piece of the puzzle,” Mr. Pernice said.

“One of the steps the town board is interested in doing is going to Russell. Russell just did the system up there, and we want to go up and talk to Bob Best (Russell town supervisor) and whoever. We want to make sure that their system delivered as was promised,” he said.

Overall, this is certainly a long-term project, but Mr. Opdyke has some optimism that, if accepted, the project could be in place for spring 2014.

“I’ve been back to see Charlie. There are three different businesses being asked about proposals. These three are all engineering companies. They would do engineering, contracting, etc.,” according to Mr. Opdyke.

At the next (town board) meeting in August, hopefully we would have a proposal they would accept. They would hopefully have a contract. Realistically, this will go up next spring. That’s my best guess,” he said.

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