Schenectady County

GE gets nod for green growth

General Electric won permission from the city Wednesday to recycle an old warehouse for its Renewabl
PHOTOGRAPHER:

General Electric won permission from the city Wednesday to recycle an old warehouse for its Renewable Energy division.

GE is turning a relic from the days of its foundry into a $39 million, state-of-the-art office building. In an ambitious construction schedule, officials plan to move the first scientists there this December.

The workers will be among the first increase in the force at the plant in many years. The plan also bucks GE’s trend of demolishing buildings at its site. Instead, for the first time in decades, GE will add to its campus.

The addition will be small — a 19,000-square-foot atrium attached to the warehouse. In it, workers will showcase a nearly-four-story model of a wind turbine.

Outside, they will demonstrate various solar panels, each 8 feet tall and 20 feet long. Some will be fixed in place while others will move with the sun, allowing customers to see exactly what they could purchase.

The Schenectady Planning Commission unanimously approved the project Wednesday without any criticism. The commission actually wanted to accept the project a month ago but was stopped at the last minute because the county Industrial Development Agency had not yet voted to become lead agency and certify that the project would not cause any significant environmental impacts.

The technicality made General Electric spokesman Cliff Barber anxious. He told the commission that he needed permission to start work soon if he was to stay on schedule. Commissioners offered to hold a special meeting as soon as the IDA voted.

But it turned out the IDA’s hands were tied as well. That agency could not take the simple step of declaring lead agency status until all other agencies agreed to back off. The issue is normally not a problem, but members never heard back from the Department of Environmental Conservation. The worker who was supposed to send a letter of approval to the IDA was on vacation.

Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen expressed frustration at the long delay, particularly since it involved General Electric. City and county officials spent years lobbying the company to expand its presence in Schenectady, and he said he couldn’t believe that long process was placed on hold by one simple governmental letter.

But it all ended well.

Eventually, the letter arrived, the IDA voted, the commission was able to give GE the green light and Barber said everything would turn out fine.

“Obviously every job has its pitfalls,” he said after Wednesday’s vote. “The expectation still is we’ll get the people in there on time.”

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