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Copake expects to become shining example


COPAKE–The Town Board agreed to shell out $1,000 in the hope of saving a bundle in energy costs and doing its part to become more environmentally friendly over the coming years.

The energy-cost-saving proposal at hand was the installation of solar panels on the Town Hall roof. Carlos Newcomb, a project manager with Hudson Valley Clean Energy (HVCE), explained the project details to the Town Board and the public at the board’s meeting the morning of Saturday, June 13.

HVCE is a full-service installer of solar electric, solar hot water and geothermal systems based in Rhinebeck. The firm serves Ulster, Dutchess, Columbia, Greene, Putnam and northern Orange counties.

Town Councilman Daniel Tompkins, who heads a committee investigating renewable energy sources for the town, invited Mr. Newcomb to the meeting. HVCE was one of three companies to provide cost estimates for the project.  

The town aims to tap into federal stimulus money to pay for 22% of the new solar electric, or photovoltaic (PV), system. The other 78% of the project cost will come from a direct grant from the state.

The total cost estimate for the 25 kilowatt peak (kWp) solar electric system is $158,300. But, if all goes according to plan, the town will get the whole thing free–that includes the reimbursement of its initial $1K investment.

According to an HVCE analysis of environmental benefits, use of this solar electric system at the Town Hall will “offset” 1,246,256 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over 25 years. Planting 129 acres of trees would have the same effect.

Each year the system will produce the same amount of electricity as burning: 2,209 gallons of oil, 23,660 pounds of coal or 4,524 therms of natural gas.

On average in this area, “we get 4 ½ hours of sun per day,” 7 hours in the summer and 2 hours in the winter, said Mr. Newcomb. During the summer when the solar panels generate the most electricity, “the meter will run backwards” and the town will get a credit from its utility company instead of a bill. There is no need for batteries to store the electricity like in the old days, he said.

Inexplicably, utilities have taken a long time to warm up to the idea, said Mr. Newcomb, explaining that they are required to supply all the power needed by their customers. “If they don’t have it, they have to buy it from the Northwest or Canada,” which can be an expensive proposition, he said.

According to Mr. Newcomb, now that the project estimate is complete, “paperwork has to be generated to seek grant money from the state and this has to be done before [the town] applies for federal stimulus money.”

The paperwork required is extensive and includes an engineering plan and computer-aided design (CAD) drawings, Mr. Newcomb said.

The idea is to submit the federal portion of the proposal as “a shovel-ready project” to qualify under federal stimulus program guidelines, and that includes proof that the state will pick up the tab on the other 78% of the project cost, he said.

Once the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) gets the paperwork, it will assign the money to the town’s project pending approval, which can take several months, said the project manager.

The fee for producing the paperwork necessary to get the process rolling is $1,000 and Mr. Newcomb said his firm is ready and able to do it.

Another favorable aspect of the project is that the solar panels are produced by a firm in Evergreen, Mass., and the inverters come from a firm in Oregon, making the project supplies entirely manufactured in the U.S.    

Mr. Newcomb said that money for the state’s portion of the project is bankrolled by a fund that residents pay for on their utility bill.

In answer to a question from resident Karen Hallenbeck about whether townspeople can “piggyback” in on the town’s project, Mr. Newcomb said the “deal for municipalities is really good,” but residential projects are subject to size limitations, and the reimbursement rate is closer to 50% plus a small tax credit.

Though the state fund for such energy projects “starts to run out of money around September” meaning the state uses up its allocation for that year, the fund, which is administered by the state Public Service Commission, “is not going away,” said Mr. Newcomb. Applicants can reapply for funds the following year and move to the top of the list.

The solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years and last up to 50 years, while the inverters carry a 10-year guarantee and last up to 20 years.

In answer to a question about maintenance, Mr. Newcomb said there is generally no need to shovel snow off the panels because they are dark in color and “pick up the heat, which melts the snow off.”

Councilman Bob Sacks questioned Mr. Newcomb about fire safety issues connected with the system.

Mr. Newcomb said that new legislation requires the system to have a “DC disconnect,” which firefighters can access with a key.

Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia made a motion to spend the $1,000 to initiate the project and the board unanimously agreed.

To contact Diane Valden email 

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