WILLIAMSVILLE, NY – A Williamsville firm will handle most of the work on a $7.5 million contract to install a massive solar panel system at the University at Buffalo, designed to provide “green” energy to student apartments, the New York Power Authority said Monday.
Solar Liberty will work in conjunction with a Canadian firm to set up the system, which officials called the largest solar installation at any college or university in the state, and one of the largest on any U. S. campus.
It’s part of a new emphasis by the Power Authority and the state on renewable energy, and on lessening the state’s dependence on fossil fuels, officials said. And it will lead to the creation of what officials called “green” jobs that can’t be exported overseas.
The proposed contract, which still faces approval by the Power Authority board, calls for the installation of a 1.1-megawatt solar photovoltaic system on UB’s North Campus in Amherst. The project includes about 5,000 solar panels that will generate 1.3 million kilowatt hours of energy annually. That will power 735 apartments at UB’s Flint Village, housing more than 2,000 students. One megawatt typically powers 1,000 homes.
The contract, which was subject to competitive bidding, will technically be awarded to Simcoe, Ont.- based DeCloet Greenhouse Manufacturing. However, 80 percent of the contract, or up to $6 million, will go to Solar Liberty.
Power Authority President and CEO Richard Kessel said Monday that he will ask the authority’s board to approve the contract for Solar Liberty at the board’s regular meeting today, to be held at the Niagara Power Project’s Power Vista in Lewiston. Although the decision is not yet final, Kessel said he had spoken to many of the directors and said they are in favor.
“They think this is exactly what the Power Authority should be doing,” said Kessel. “This is the first of many projects we’ll be doing in Western New York.”
Under the contract, Solar Liberty, headquartered at 6225 Sheridan Drive in the Sheridan Meadows office complex, will purchase the panels and other equipment and provide the local labor to install the ground-mounted system. DeCloet, a greenhouse maker with expertise in laying fields of equipment in the ground, will provide technical expertise and supervision, but the work will be handled by Solar Liberty.
The panels will be installed at four feet off the ground, at a pitched angle facing south, and will occupy six acres near the campus’ chilling plant. Each panel is about 15 square feet. They can generate electricity even through a few inches of snow, but the top surface is glass with no friction so snow will slide off with a little heat.
Construction could start in August and it’s slated for completion by fall 2010, though Kessel said it could be ready sooner.
Solar Liberty, which employs 14, said it expects to hire another 10 to 15 installation workers, who will be paid between $35 and $50 an hour, as well as some more administrative staff to work in its offices.
The UB project is expected to be the largest ground-mounted solar photovoltaic system in the state. It’s part of a $21 million renewable energy program by the Power Authority that officials said will focus on Western New York and the North Country.
Founded by Rizzo, a UB Law School graduate, and his brother Nathan, Solar Liberty is one of the largest solar electric “integrators” and installers in the state. It serves government, nonprofit, education, commercial and residential customers.
In addition to its main office here, it has an office in Syracuse, and installation crews working around the state. It also serves installers nationally through a wholesale division.
The Buffalo News
By Jonathan D. Epstein
NEWS BUSINESS REPORTER