NISKAYUNA — A new solar energy farm has gone into operation behind the Hillside Commerce Park in Niskayuna, generating power that will be used by Schenectady County government.
The 792,480-kilowatt panel array on 3 acres of county-owned land was installed in the industrial park by Monolith Solar Associates, of Rensselaer, under an agreement by which Monolith pays the capital costs and the county agrees to buy the power at a rate 30 percent below the standard commercial electricity rate.
The savings to county government are estimated at $20,000 per year, or $400,000 over the 20-year length of the contract.
“Not only will we save on our electric bills, benefiting our taxpayers, but we’ll continue our efforts to be environmentally responsible and leave Schenectady County a better place for future generations,” said County Legislator Rory Fluman, vice-chairman of the county’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, Renewable Energy and Parks.
Together with the solar farm at the county recycling center in Glenville and solar panels installed on a number of buildings, the county is now producing nearly 2 million kilowatt-hours of solar electricity. All of the solar equipment has been installed under the county’s contract with Monolith, which does business across upstate New York.
“This past October, the county Legislature committed itself to reaching 100-percent energy independence by Dec. 31, 2020,” Fluman said.
Monolith President Mark Fobare said the solar farm cost about $1.5 million to install, and the economics work because of the county’s commitment to future power purchases and a 30-percent federal tax credit available to private solar investors.
The array has been in operation since June 1 and has been working, despite days and days of clouds and rain since then.
“As long as the sun is up, you’re generating,” said Fobare, a Niskayuna native who now lives in New Jersey. “If it’s light enough to see, you’re generating.”
Schenectady County Legislator Rory Fluman and Monolith Solar President Mark Fobare talk in front of inverters that are part of a new county solar farm in Niskayuna. (Stephen Williams)
Still, it works best on sunny days.
“The way we measure is annual,” Fobare said. “Regardless of the day to day weather, I can tell you within 1 or 2 percent how much power you will generate.”
The panels create direct-current electricity, which a system of inverters converts to alternating current that is then fed into the power grid through a 13,200-kilovolt underground line. The county then gets a purchase credit on its power bills for the electricity generated.
“Philosophically, what’s happening is the meter is running backward,” Fobare said.
Two more Monolith projects on county-owned properties are expected to open in Rotterdam before the end of the year. Once a site is cleared and ready for development, installation of the rows of panels takes only a few weeks.
Fluman said the goal is to make Schenectady County a statewide leader in converting county governments to alternative energy sources. The county has been working with Monolith since 2011.
Monolith, created nine years ago with its two founders as the only employees, now has 140 employees.
“It’s phenomenal what’s happening with solar,” Fobare said.