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Energy expert shines light on Copake’s solar deal


COPAKE–After clearing up a contractual misunderstanding, the Town Board has agreed to go forward with its pursuit of solar power for the Town Hall.

At a special Town Board meeting August 28, Carlos Newcomb, a project manager with Hudson Valley Clean Energy (HVCE), came to assure board members that the town’s outlay of funds for the Town Hall solar panel project agreed upon last June will not exceed $1,000.

Mr. Newcomb was asked to come to the special meeting to explain some contractual language that caused Deputy Town Supervisor Joe LaPorta to refuse to sign the project documents on the town’s behalf while Supervisor Reggie Crowley was away last month.

Mr. LaPorta’s was concerned the contract would make the town responsible for a payment of about $35,000 if project grant money does not materialize as expected. That’s what he told those present at the August 13 Town Board meeting. Not wanting to commit the already cash-strapped town to such a payment, Mr. LaPorta said he would not sign the agreement.

But Mr. Newcomb assured the board August 28 that the contract language is standard and meant to get the paperwork moving forward, not create a payment timetable to which the town is committed.

He said nothing would happen until funds from NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) and the federal economic stimulus program are approved or received.  “Without that, we would not expect you to move forward,” he said.

Mr. Newcomb also offered the town an alternative way to proceed with the project without waiting for the state and federal funds to come through–called a power-of-purchase agreement.

Under the agreement, a third party, a for-profit entity, would purchase the solar panels on the town’s behalf, then the town would enter into an agreement with the purchaser and pay for the power generated by the solar equipment at a cut rate.

At the end of the five years, the third party purchaser can take a tax credit and a depreciation deduction for the full cost of the equipment. The town can then decide whether to buy the solar equipment from the third party purchaser for not more than 10% of the original cost or leave the same agreement in place for another five years.

The agreement works out because the state has a tax credit and depreciation schedule that “is beneficial and attractive” to the third party, according to Mr. Newcomb. He said said that NYSERDA is ironing out the details of these power-of-purchase agreements because it would like to see “a bunch” of them happen.

The agreements are “a good way to get solar power into the state” and are “available to any non-profit organization, not just municipalities,” Mr. Newcomb said. The third party would be responsible for maintaining the town’s solar energy system until the town decides to buy it.

To ease the minds of town board members, Mr. Newcomb said the town’s lawyer could add a clause to the contract stating that the town is not liable to pay anything except the initial $1,000 for producing the paperwork to get the process rolling.

“We’re not trying to hold you accountable, we’re trying to get you solar power,” Mr. Newcomb said.

The project manager told the board that the best scenario would be for the federal government to pick up 78% and the state pick up 22% of the tab for the solar panels, with the town essentially getting the system at no cost, then “everything you get will be your savings.”

Councilman Daniel Tompkins, who heads the committee investigating renewable energy sources for the town, reminded the board that in its original discussions it decided not to go forward with the project unless the full amount of money needed to pay for it was obtained from NYSERDA and the federal government.

Even if the funds take two or more years to come through, the engineering study performed by HVCE “is good for the life of the building,” Mr. Newcomb confirmed.

Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia made the motion that the board proceed with the solar panel project contract once the language clarification is completed by Town Attorney Kevin Thiemann. All board members present agreed. Councilman Walter Kiernan was absent.

To contact Diane Valden email 

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