Niagara Falls and the rest of Western New York are poised to be a major beneficiary in what is being called the largest solar power initiative in New York state’s history.
New York Power Authority President and Chief Executive Officer Richard M. Kessel came to town Thursday and detailed plans to generate 100 megawatts of solar energy statewide over the next four years that will stimulate the growing clean energy industry. A request for proposals to companies interested in developing solar power projects and equipment has already attracted online interest from more than 60 parties since being announced earlier this week.
During a morning press conference Thursday at Niagara Falls High School, Kessel said the power authority plans on moving quickly on the initiative, with bids due by Earth Day April 22 and the first wave of projects beginning by the end of the year.
“This is not something pie in the sky that’s five years away,” Kessel said. “This is something that is happening right now.”
Kessel said the installation of photovoltaic systems will generate up to 100 megawatts of power, which is enough to provide energy for 16,000 homes statewide and is five times more than the state’s current output of solar energy. Roof- and ground-mounted solar arrays will primarily be targeted for schools, public universities and colleges, state and local government facilities, municipal electric utilities and rural electric cooperatives.
In addition to stimulating the solar industry, projects will support and advance sustainability efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of state and local public facilities by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45,000 tons per year, Kessel said. They are also expected to create thousands of jobs, he estimated, and “a leg up” will be given to bidders who intend on employing workers living in the community where the projects are happening.
Because the projects will be done using a competitive bidding process, Kessel declined to estimate an overall cost but said it will be much more than “tens of millions of dollars.” He also noted the projects will not result in NYPA rate increases.
As for how the projects will be distributed, Kessel said the state will be broken down into five regions: Western New York, Northern New York, Central New York, Southeast New York and New York City. Though no formula is in place to determine what areas will get the most solar energy systems, Kessel vowed NYPA will commit to “a significant number of projects” in Niagara Falls and other Western New York communities.
State Sen. George Maziarz, a vocal critic of NYPA operations, applauded the solar energy initiative, calling it “a good first step.” However, he said that since the bulk of NYPA’s net revenue — somewhere between 75 percent to 95 percent depending on who you ask — is generated through the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston, then the Niagara Region should receive the majority of the projects.
“We just want to be given not only our fair share but more than our fair share,” Maziarz said. “Because we really are the Power Authority.”
In response, Kessel said NYPA hopes to have “as many as 20 to 25 percent of the projects here.”
Kessel added Niagara Falls could be chosen as the site for a large scale “Community Solar” project, which will connect to the distribution systems of municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives. The projects can reduce costs and provide relief for grids nearing their transmission capacity.
Also attending Thursday’s press conference was a host of local and state officials and Niagara Falls School District employees, including Mayor Paul Dyster, Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte and School Superintendent Cynthia Bianco.
Dyster, who has long been a supporter of green initiatives, praised the project and noted it would not only reduce energy consumption and dependency on foreign oil, but eventually lower rates and taxes.
“We couldn’t have a better time to build solar power systems right here in New York state because we need jobs,” he said.
Adam Rizzo, president of Solar Liberty located in Williamsville, said his company would likely be among the project bidders. Solar Liberty was created in 2003 and has since grown from just Rizzo and his brother to 20 employees, most of whom are local college graduates.
“Programs like this is exactly what we need to put New York state back on the map,” Rizzo said during the press conference.
The Niagara Falls School District is among those that has already filled out online applications expressing interest in becoming host sites for the solar photovoltaic installations. The applications are for Cataract Elementary School on 66th Street, Community Education Center on Lindbergh Avenue and Niagara Falls High School on Porter Road.
“We are in the business of preparing our youth for the future, and certainly we know that developing clean, renewable energy sources is an important part of the future,” Bianco said. (The NYPA project) will impact no one more than our youth.”
By Paul Westmore