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Amherst wants to become leader on green energy

Overhead view of solar grid
Stephen T. Watson
February 19, 2021

The Town of Amherst is making a push to get more of its energy from renewable sources and to reduce its overall energy consumption.

Amherst is looking to generate more of the electricity used in town buildings from solar arrays or, possibly, hydro power; convert streetlights to efficient LED lights; replace diesel-powered heavy equipment in the town’s fleet with zero-emission machines; and reduce waste and increase recycling, among other changes.

Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa discussed the green initiative in his State of the Town address earlier this month and again in an interview Friday.

“It’s about starting to transform the way you approach energy consumption in Western New York,” he said.

Many of the ideas are at the level of a demonstration project, with solar energy a point of focus.

For example, the town in 2019 had a rooftop solar array installed at its Clearfield Community Center. The project generates about 200,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, reducing the amount needed from National Grid to supply the center, Kulpa said.

The Clearfield array has worked so well the town wants to put in place a ground-mounted array at its water pollution control facility that would, he said, produce roughly $288,000 in lower energy costs over 20 years.

Kulpa said he can see the town installing more arrays at its highway and engineering departments; at its police, courts and library complex in Amherst’s Audubon section; and at the town and village municipal center on Main Street in Williamsville – with the village’s cooperation.

The town also could rely on solar power to provide power to street lights and traffic control devices in Amherst. The town is considering buying its street lights from National Grid and converting them to energy-efficient LED lights, improving the lighting network and reducing annual energy costs, as other communities have done.

Amherst officials have talked to a Buffalo startup, Green Machine, about supplying battery cells that would use solar power to charge streetlights and a network of artificially intelligent signals planned for the town, Kulpa said.

Green Machine also makes rechargeable battery packs for heavy construction equipment and Kulpa said the town intends to test out at least one such vehicle.

Further, town officials visited low-flow hydroelectric generators in Auburn, outside Syracuse, to help determine whether the same type of generating equipment could be installed along Ellicott Creek, Kulpa said.

The town has several advisory committees that seek to address fossil-fuel use, waste and recycling in Amherst, including a sustainability committee that has industry representatives.

Some other communities and institutions also have welcomed solar energy, including:

  • The Town of Tonawanda, which contracted with Solar Liberty to construct an array on a portion of the town’s former landfill, located just west of Military Road and just north of the I-290. Solar Liberty took over after Tesla backed out of the project. Work on the roughly 8,100-panel array was finished in 2019, and the town expected to save $60,000 annually on its electricity bill.
  • The University at Buffalo, which last year announced plans for an array of 16,770 solar panels on a 25-acre field on its North Campus in Amherst. Work by Solar Liberty on the project, which will generate the equivalent of the energy used annually by more than 1,300 homes, began last month and should conclude this spring. It is one of a number of arrays constructed or planned on and off campus.

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