Vernon officials discuss community solar project

Vernon, N.Y. — Town of Vernon officials sat with developers interested in building a $10 million community solar project and asked them the questions residents want answered.

While both businesses and residents of the town of Vernon were invited to the public meeting on Oct. 22, only town officials were in attendance; Town Supervisor J. Randall Watson, Councilor Mick McDonough, Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Brian Dam, Zoning Board of Appeals member Jake Schieferstine, Planning Board member Tom Gerking and Planning Board member Buddy Richardson.

Speaking for the proposed community solar project was RER Energy Group’s Senior Solar Project Developer Dennis Satnick and Associated Energy Developers Business Analyst Matthew White, who were jointly proposing a 5 megawatt community solar array across the street from the town court.

The 58-acre property in question is owned by Kevin Sykes, a Morrisville resident. Satnick said the commercial and residential electricity cost could be reduced by around 10 percent. A community solar project like the one proposed would see the joint-company project sell the electricity to National Grid. National Grid will pay the company and the company will share the savings with whoever subscribes to the solar array.

In addition, the town of Vernon will receive a payment in lieu of taxes; either all up front or in a series of payments that will be determined through future negotiations.

Satnick said the business was looking for a market of about 1,000 people and will conduct a number of informational sessions to gauge interest and determine if the market is viable in the area.

“The general understanding is that we’re going to be able to reduce people’s bills by 10 to 15 percent. And all we ask is people keep using their electricity,” Satnick said.

Town officials had a number of questions on their minds, such as how the subscription works, who would be responsible for maintenance and how it will impact the natural environment.

Satnick said the definition of subscribing to the solar array means buying the electricity at the solar array price; around 10 percent less than what it costs from National Grid. As part of the subscription, residents and businesses agree to buy the electricity as part of a 20 year contract.

“A good analogy to think about it is essentially you’re buying a National Grid gift card at 90 cents on the dollar,” White said. “We get the same value you are paying for electricity essentially as a bunch of gift cards from National Grid. We sell them to you, so say a $100 gift card would be $90.”

Richardson asked if being a subscriber was being like a co-op member, meaning they were responsible for the solar array.

Both White and Satnick said in no way are subscribers or even the town of Vernon responsible and the burden of repair and maintenance falls squarely on their business.

“We own the system, we have to generate the electricity so we’re responsible for all maintenance,” Satnick said. “We have every reason in the world to make sure the system operates at optimum efficiency. You’re always going to be hooked up to National Grid, so if the array goes down for whatever reason, you’re still going to be powered up.”

Gerking asked what would happen if a natural disaster hit Vernon, such as a tornado, that resulted in upwards to half the array going down.

“That would fall under an act of God and we have insurance,” White said.

Dam said being a former teacher, he felt there’s a possibility students from the nearby school might find throwing rocks at the solar panels to be a good way to waste an afternoon.

Satnick said if vandalism starts to become an issue, they can always install security cameras or make alterations to the fence surrounding the array.

McDonough said there are residents who had concerns the solar panels may impact local birds, wildlife or even pose a fire hazard.

“These are questions I have to answer to people,” McDonough said. “These are things that people have told us.”

While people can have their concerns, Satnick said most are unfounded and that there would be no problem with birds or wildlife interacting with the solar panels. And in his time working in the solar industry, Satnick said he’s never seen a solar array catch on fire. As for public safety, Satnick produced a number of photos of a school with a solar array built right next to it.

“People are always concerned about arrays next to a school,” Satnick said. “I thought it would be important to show you to help deflate anxiety. I’m sure there are some people in Vernon that have solar arrays on their homes. There are solar arrays next to schools all over the country and on their homes. And this one is 500 to 700 feet away.”

Satnick said they will follow up discussions with the town of Vernon within the next few weeks.