To town should slow down on solar energy and focus on conserving energy

To the Editor:

Perhaps I missed a series of public hearings, perhaps I missed a few articles in local newspapers, perhaps I failed to read every word of a proposed agenda. Somehow I missed that the town of Guilderland is on the edge of what could be it’s largest single public works project with little or no time for public input.

Based on the content of the Altamont Enterprise’s article by Anne Hayden Harwood (Jan. 16, 2014) the town is attempting to “save nearly $1.5 million” over the next 25 years by adding solar. That’s a proposed savings of $164 a day.

The projected $1.5 million savings is based on an early proposal for solar panels situated in 11 unique locations, including at least one new structure. Plans would be finalized after the consultants’ report is reviewed and voted on. The vote Tuesday, Jan. 21, was for the hiring of the consultants only, not the purchase of solar panels and related material.

I rounded the information — the town uses 4.3 million kwh (kilowatt hours) a year and the supervisor is suggesting that solar panels, spread over a possible 11 sites could provide all of it.

Problem: Each solar site requires controls and protections. When a building on the grid has a generator, there must be automatic safety cutoffs to protect workers on the public utility grid from shock if the generator is started. More than once, after the utilities have been knocked out by a storm, the weather has turned clear and bright.

The initial solar proposal as noted in the article states it will not include battery storage for excess electricity produced; extreme sun and a light load can lead to excess. The plan is to sell excess to the public utility or bank it for the town’s use.

To sell back the excess, each site must remain attached to the grid. If any site is used after dark or on cloudy days, it must remain on the grid; therefore, a means to alternate between solar and utility must be provided as well as the protective cutoffs.

As a private utility user, I pay a fee each month to be connected to the grid; I suspect the town does as well and for more than one site.

Problem: The national weather service gives this area an average of 52 percent of available sunlight, not taking into account that snow covering further reduces available solar radiation. The 52 percent of available sunlight means that during the day we will, on average, buy 48 percent of the town’s power from the grid and we will buy 100 percent of our needs between sunset and sunrise except for banked credits from overproduction.

Problem: The electrical needs of some proposed sites would call for an array of solar panels that may exceed the existing structural roof areas, requiring new construction. We are at Latitude 42.7degrees N.

In order to maximize solar production in the winter, that is the installation angle; to maximize output in the summer, it has to be a much flatter angle. Roofs must face east to west or the panels will never function, and there must be a clear field from the building to the sunlight.

In Guilderland solar could be good, but to be of value the site and load requirements can not exceed the functionality of the technology. Why is the town board rushing to spend money on what most experts would consider to be a costly choice with a low return for no other reasons than the weather and the geographic layout of the town’s properties?

In the last 10 years, a number of different solar credit programs have been offered and, based on the stated policies of the federal and state governments, more will be offered.

Slow down and focus on energy savings by using less energy. With a tax cap hanging over the town’s head, this is not a good time to plunge into the deep end of what will most likely require a bond issue.

Lou Domanico

Editor’s note: The proposal Guilderland is considering would not involve a bond vote since the town would buy energy from a company that would build, own, and maintain the solar installations.

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