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Otsego County eyes Laurens site for big solar farm

COOPERSTOWN — Otsego County’s government could soon be acquiring almost all of its power from a sprawling $6 million solar farm that would be sited at a former gravel pit off County Route 11 in Laurens, officials said Wednesday.

“In essence, all the ground work has been laid,” said Ronald Feldstein, president of the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance, a local development corporation that has been shepherding the project along with SolarCity Corp., the nation’s largest solar energy corporation, in conjunction with the county Planning Department.

Feldstein and Daniel Leary, senior project development manager for SolarCity, said the Laurens project — on a 10-acre site owned by the county — would result in significant cost reductions for the county.

Leary said the New York State Energy Research Development Authority would provide about 20 percent of the project’s costs.

The county would simply have to pay for the power to the tune of 6.9 cents per kilowatt for the next 20 years, and all of the installation and maintenance costs would be borne by SolarCity, Leary said.

Leary said at the end of the 20-year contract, the county would have three options: purchase the equipment at fair market value, renew the agreement with SolarCity or have the equipment removed from the site by SolarCity.

County building Services Director Douglas Czerkies gave the plan two thumbs up.

“We’re going to be saving $100,000 a year in taxpayers’ money,” Czerkies said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Leary said the network of solar panels could become operational by next June, and ground could be broken by the end of March.

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The project would require a review under the state Environmental Quality Review Act, and the county Board of Representatives would have to agree to embrace the plan. No opposition was voiced when it was explained to the board by Feldstein, a former county representative, and Leary.

The chairman of the county board, Rep. Kathleen Clark, R-Otego, told The Daily Star: “I think it’s a great idea.”

She said her only initial reservation is the potential that the cost of power from the grid could drop below the amount that would be charged by SolarCity, But she said she found the concept of getting power from a renewable source of energy, as opposed to fossil fuels, was very attractive.

“I didn’t sense any opposition to it at all,” Clark said.

Laurens Town Supervisor Oscar Oberkircher said he had no information on the solar farm plan until he was informed of it Wednesday by a reporter for The Daily Star.

He said the plan would appear to have no negative impacts on any residents, as there are no houses in the immediate area. The site sits to the west of County Route 11.

“I’ve heard NYSERDA is running out of money for these projects, so it’s good to get the money while you can,” Oberkircher said.

SolarCity’s plan for Otsego County was broached just one week after company and state officials announced that an industrial park in South Buffalo, Riverbend Commerce Park, will be the new home of the firm’s new manufacturing plant, described as the largest production facility in the Western Hemisphere for solar panels.

SolarCity said it plans to invest $5 billion in that plant while the state is expected to chip in $750 million. That project is expected to result in an estimated 3,000 jobs for the Buffalo area, officials said.

As for the Laurens solar farm, Leary and Feldstein said it will be unobtrusive and passing motorists would be unlikely to notice it. Leary said it would be surrounded by a chain link fence. The solar panels would generate more power in summer months, while the energy production potential would dip in the winter, Leary said.

By law, the state Public Service Commission puts a maximum limit on interconnections to the power grid at 2 megawatts, Leary said.

A county vote on the project could come as early as the board’s November meeting.