SCHENECTADY COUNTY -- General Electric has signed on to help Schenectady County municipalities develop energy-generating solar arrays on municipally owned properties, including four former landfills.
County, city and town officials on Thursday announced that GE would partner with the Schenectady County Solar Consortium on a project that could make local government buildings and facilities in the county energy-independent by the end of 2021.
There are 18 sites that county officials have identified. If all were developed, they could generate 45 megawatts of power -- potentially the largest municipal solar project in New York state, according to county officials.
"Schenectady County is again leading the way in renewable energy that is saving taxpayer dollars," said County Legislator Rory Fluman, D-Scotia, chairman of the County Legislature's Committee on Intergovernmental Cooperation.
Fluman estimated total annual savings from solar energy credits on municipal electric bills could be $1.5 million.
The plan to develop solar farms in multiple communities grew out of the county's shared municipal services study, compiled last year, Fluman said. The county has been developing solar arrays on county-owned land with the goal of making county operations energy-independent by 2020.
GE will invest tens of millions of dollars in the new effort, said Erik Schiemann, general manager of solar development at GE. County officials said there will be no cost to taxpayers for the installations.
The solar development team is based in Schenectady and has 18 employees, but it develops projects nationwide. None of the solar manufacturing will be done in Schenectady.
"It feels good when you do something in your own backyard," Schiemann said.
He said the next step will be for GE to evaluate the energy finances of each proposed array, followed by a detailed site evaluation to determine whether the proposed sites are actually suitable for solar development.
The NY-SUN solar development program will also offer some incentives, said state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.
The 18 sites targeted for possible solar farms include two owned by the county, two owned by Schenectady, five in Rotterdam, three in Glenville, four owned by the village of Delanson, and one each in Niskayuna and Duanesburg. Those municipalities each signed off on allowing the sites to be studied, but Fluman said they will have veto power over any of the locations being developed. The prospective sites include former landfills in Schenectady, Rotterdam, Glenville and Duanesburg.
The two Democratic members of the Glenville Town Board were at the announcement in the County Legislature offices, but Chris Koetzle, the town's Republican supervisor, said he didn't receive an invitation until Wednesday night and couldn't attend. He said county officials had told him almost nothing about the project.
"There's no communication from the county side," Koetzle said.
He said the town has been trying to develop the old landfill but has struggled to get solar companies interested because connecting to the power grid would require a power line somehow crossing railroad tracks. Another Glenville site listed by the county, located on Vley Road, is no longer available because the town is planning a public safety facility there, Koetzle said.
Rotterdam Town Supervisor Steven Tommasone attended the announcement and said he welcomed the possibility of solar development on town-owned lands.
Schiemann said the evaluation and study phase will take at least six months, and construction late in the year would be weather-dependent.
GE has installed solar panels on a landfill in Wallkill and is evaluating landfill projects in Massachusetts and California.
"It's very common, actually," Schiemann said.
The County Legislature will consider the necessary agreements to move the project forward at a committee meeting Monday and then at the County Legislature meeting on May 8, said County Attorney Chris Gardner.