Montgomery County

Amsterdam office, barn to go solar for savings on power bill

The town of Amsterdam Office Building won’t look much different from the ground, but as of July 1, i

The town of Amsterdam Office Building won’t look much different from the ground, but as of July 1, its power bills will change significantly.

The Amsterdam Town Board voted unanimously to sign a 20-year contract with New York Light Energy of Latham to sheathe the roofs of their County Highway 9 office and neighboring barn in solar panels, a decision projected to save them $118,000 in energy costs over the next 20 years.

“We’re the first in our area, in terms of municipalities, to do this,” Town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza said. “We’re leading the way. I think you’re going to see a lot more solar panels in the future.”

Current plans show 182 panels generating 44.9 kilowatts installed on the main office and 154 panels generating 37.3 kilowatts set for the barn roof.

Solar arrays are not cheap. In fact, the equipment involved in this project is valued at roughly $200,000. But local government won’t be getting a bill.

“The main roadblock to solar power is the large out-of-pocket investment it requires,” Alex Lieb, CEO of Light Power, said. “But we’ve found a way to bundle all the government subsidies.”

Those subsidies take care of roughly 75 percent of the cost, according to Lieb. The roughly $50,000 remaining will be paid for by Light Power itself.

“We still own the panels,” he said. “We sell the power to the building owner for less than National Grid would charge, creating a steady stream of revenue to finance our investment.”

The theory is that each panel has an initial cost and a potential value in savings greater than that cost. According to Lieb, the net profit is split evenly by Light Energy and the building owner.

The town office is projected to save 35 percent on its yearly $12,700 power expenses, which works out to $4,500 saved per year according to DiMezza. The monthly payment to Light Power will be enough to cover the cost of the panels and bring in a profit.

“Everybody wins,” Lieb said.

The only problem comes when there aren’t enough sunny days.

The building owner pays a monthly flat rate to Light Power based upon yearly average output. If there aren’t enough sunny days in a particular month, there will be fewer kilowatts of electricity generated, so each one will cost the building owner more.

In January 2011, for example, Light Energy panels missed their contracted output because of the heavy snow. The loss, however, was gained back by the sunny summer months, the year as a whole delivering 1 percent more power than contracted.

“We’ve had the solar power for about a year now,” said Andy Heck, president of Alpin Haus, whose Route 30 location has nearly 700 panels. “We’re saving money for sure, a minimum of $15,000 a year. That’s real dollars.”

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