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State grant to help return Halfmoon to its solar roots

State grant to help return Halfmoon to its solar roots

Halfmoon announced it had been awarded a grant through the New York State Energy Research and Develo
State grant to help return Halfmoon to its solar roots
A sign naming Halfmoon as "Solar Town U.S.A." is seen outside Town Hall on Wednesday, October 22, 2014.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson

It’s been a long time since anyone casually referred to Halfmoon as Solartown USA, a moniker that sounds as archaic in construction as the reason the town got the name in the first place.

In October 1978, Halfmoon opened the first solar-powered town hall in the United States. Harry Reasoner of “60 Minutes” came to do a story on the building, which garnered widespread attention during the days of the gas crisis. Highway signs for Halfmoon read “Solartown USA.”

“When it was built,” town Supervisor Kevin Tollisen said, “it was a state-of-the-art-thing.”

But eventually the system broke down in the 1990s. The town moved to a new town hall next door in December 2007, with the old building relabeled the Justice Building. The name Solartown USA receded into a distant memory.

“It has been a number of years,” Tollisen conceded.

Until Wednesday, that is — when Halfmoon announced it had been awarded a grant through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s NY Sun program to install solar panels on open land at the Halfmoon Water Treatment Facility on Brook Road. The energy savings will be immediate — $170,000 in year one — and long-term — $4.25 million over 20 years.

There is no cost to the town. The panels are expected to be up by next month. And Solartown USA is back in the solar game.

“It’s a no-brainer for us,” Tollisen said. “This is a significant cost savings for town residents.”

More and more communities and other institutions are looking to become solar towns and install solar arrays (often funded with grants) to defray municipal energy costs.

Just this week, SunEdison, a California-based manufacturer of solar panels, announced it intends to build a 2-megawatt solar array on part of Saratoga Springs’ decommissioned landfill that would ultimately generate electricity equal to about 45 percent of that used by the city’s municipal buildings.

Earlier this month, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for Skidmore College’s 8-acre solar array in Greenfield Center, one of the largest such projects in New York and one that will meet 12 percent of the college’s energy needs. The 6,950 ground-mounted solar panels will generate 2.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

Statewide, solar energy in New York produces 296 megawatts — 10th nationally among states and enough to power nearly 50,000 homes.

In Halfmoon, the array to be installed next month will cut energy costs for Town Hall, the Justice Building (which has not been using solar power since 1996), the senior center and the Water Department. In addition, the town is looking to undertake a similar, smaller solar project to cut utility costs at the Highway Department.

“In these times when utility costs continue to rise, the solar panels will provide long-term budgetary cost savings for the town,” Councilwoman Daphne Jordan said in a statement.

It’s doubtful the national news media will show up over Wednesday’s announcement, and Tollisen said Solartown USA will remain a name from Halfmoon’s past. But solar energy is now also part of its future, he said.

“It puts us back on the map,” he said.

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