Woodstock’s zigzagging pursuit of a solar project zagged to a standstill on February 12, as the Town Board decided to jettison a proposal under consideration and, instead, explore options that might better suit the town’s current and future energy needs and financial resources.
With councilman Ken Panza abstaining, the board voted 4 to 0 to return to square one in the process of developing a plan to power municipal properties with electricity generated by a solar array or other source of renewable energy. The vote followed an ad hoc committee’s recommendation that the town abandon a Kingston company’s proposal to construct a 750-megawatt solar array at the site of the wastewater treatment plant off Route 212 east of the hamlet.
The committee, composed of council members Cathy Magarelli and Jay Wenk, along with town attorney Ron Pordy, had scrutinized the proposal in recent meetings, including a January 23 session attended by Todd Roberts, the CEO of the Kingston firm, Solartech. The company sought to build and operate the facility at the sewer plant under a 20-year contract, known as a power purchase agreement (PPA), with the town. After the January 23 meeting Solartech revised a PPA that it had submitted for the town’s consideration last fall.
The envisioned solar array would not only power the adjacent sewer plant, but also produce surplus electricity that the town would sell to Central Hudson in exchange for a credit that might offset part of the total cost or providing power to other municipal properties, such as the Comeau offices, Town Hall, and the highway garage.
In the end, the committee concluded that the plan posed financial risks for the town; that the site, size, and workings of the solar array were problematic; and that the Town Board had exercised insufficient oversight of the process of choosing a corporate partner and evaluating a PPA for the project, instead relying on a third party. A local solar energy expert and consultant, Randolph Horner, had coordinated the town’s interactions with two prospective developers, Solartech and a Bronx-based company, OnForce Solar.
“The concept of using renewable sustainable energy is in the forefront of the goals for the town of Woodstock,” Magarelli said in a statement, adding that the concept of solar energy, in particular, was “very attractive to Woodstock.” Nevertheless, she explained in an interview after the meeting, her concerns about the Solartech proposal’s financial implications proved insurmountable. “If I didn’t feel that it was safe enough to invest my own money in, I couldn’t recommend it for the taxpayers,” said the councilwoman.
Magarelli and Wenk said after the meeting that “sooner rather than later” they would suggest other options for the board’s consideration. The options could include a solar or other “green” energy facility, located at the sewer plant or elsewhere, that the town itself would build, own, and operate, possibly with funding assistance from a source such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
In any future scenario, said the committee members, the town would establish its requirements for an energy facility before inviting developers to respond to a request for proposals, or RFP, based on those requirements. The recently abandoned process took the opposite approach, they said, with the town providing a nonbinding “letter of intent” that enabled Solartech to seek grant funding for a project that, from the town’s perspective, had yet to be fleshed out.