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Mar 25, 2014 3:09 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Town Considers Construction Of Solar Energy Plant At Airport

Mar 25, 2014 4:17 PM

East Hampton Town has taken another step toward becoming less dependent on fossil fuels.

At last week’s East Hampton Town Board meeting, council members accepted a proposal from a company that is interested in leasing 140 acres at the 600-acre East Hampton Airport for the installation of a photovoltaic system, for the eventual production and storage of solar energy. The application was then forwarded to the Long Island Power Authority and PSEG Long Island for another round of review and, if it passes muster, will be bounced back to the town for additional examination.

That application—filed by Sustainable Power Group, or sPower, based in Salt Lake City, Utah—is different from three similar proposals already on file with the town that also seek to construct solar power plants on nearly a dozen town properties, namely landfills and on top of municipal buildings.

Additionally, town officials have accepted three other proposals, those filed by firms interested in installing up to three “peaker” plants—facilities that would only kick in when the existing power grid is stressed, but would not necessarily be powered by renewable energy. Representatives of those firms are interested in building those plants at either the Montauk or East Hampton landfills, and at the East Hampton Airport.

According to Frank Dalene, chairman of the town’s Energy Sustainability Advisory Committee, which presented the Town Board with its recommendation on the latest application, there could be as much as 38 megawatts of solar power produced at the airport alone under the plan proposed by sPower—an agreement that could potentially bring in more than $500,000 in annual lease payments for the municipality, depending on how many acres the companies end up leasing from the town.

The town is entertaining the solar plant proposals, in part, to take advantage of a feed-in-tariff program being offered by LIPA and PSEG Long Island, the latter of which took over the electrical distribution from LIPA in January, though the utility still owns the actual grid. Under the program, the utilities would provide fixed payments over 20 years to those companies that install and operate the solar power plants. The town, in turn, would receive a portion of the income collected by the energy companies and the lease payments from those companies. The energy produced would go directly onto the grid and go to local demand first, according to Mr. Dalene.

Town officials are aiming to attract companies interested in constructing renewable energy systems on town-owned land so they can lessen their dependence on coal and natural gas, while also generating new revenue for the municipality.

In January, the Town Board agreed to allow three energy companies—SunEdison Government Solutions, an international firm with a headquarters in Missouri, OnForce Solar/Quanta Solar Solutions based in the Bronx, and sPower—to participate in the program and construct solar plants. Ten town-owned properties, including landfills, brush dumps and even the rooftops of some municipal buildings, are likely to become solar energy hubs once the approval process is complete.

LIPA is currently reviewing those three proposals and, if they eventually secure approval, representatives of each company will come back before the town’s advisory board to go through another round of environmental impact assessments.

The 10 properties being considered by the town could potentially produce up to 23 megawatts of power combined, according to town officials. The leasing of those spaces, when combined with the town’s anticipated cut of the revenues collected by the firms, could generate anywhere from $18 million to $30 million over two decades, according to Mr. Dalene. The town could collect between $895,000 and $1.5 million in annual lease payments and on the 10 properties alone, assuming that some type of facility is constructed on each one.

As part of the plan approved last week, sPower is proposing paying the town $4,000 per acre, per year, to lease land at the airport for a solar plant. That plan bested a second one, filed by SunEdison Government Solutions; that firm, however, had already been selected by the town to construct a solar plant on at least one of the other municipal properties. Under its rejected plan, SunEdison offered to lease land at the airport for $2,000 per acre, but would also have needed to clear more trees than sPower. Also, the land targeted by SunEdison fell within the town’s groundwater protection area, according to town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who serves as a liaison to the Energy Sustainability Advisory Committee.

At the same time, the town wants peaker power plants to be built at the East Hampton and Montauk landfills, as well as at the airport, facilities that would store energy and produce additional power. Those plants most likely would be fueled by diesel or propane.

Three companies—Northville Industries Sigma Energy Systems in Melville, Harbert Phoenix Long Island Energy of Alabama and Hecate Energy of Tennessee—are still attempting to secure approval from both LIPA and PSEG to construct peaker plants at the airport and the two landfills. Hecate Energy is the firm of choice among advisory committee members, namely because it is proposing to build a fuel cell generation plant.

Once it is built, the peaker plant at the airport could bring in anywhere from $120,000 to $4.8 million in annual revenue for the town, according to Mr. Dalene. In all likelihood, construction on the peaker plants would not begin before 2017 at the earliest.

The companies seeking final approval were selected following extensive evaluation by the Energy Sustainability Advisory Committee, which based its criteria on expertise, financial viability, references, proposed technical services and products, cost and environmental impact, according to Mr. Dalene. Additionally, the recommended companies had to conform to the town’s Comprehensive Energy Vision, which is geared toward making East Hampton Town a leader in sustainable energy efficiency by decreasing its dependence on fossil fuels.

The committee is striving to reduce the town’s electrical consumption by 50 percent, though members have not set a specific date for that goal to be reached.

“I think it’s a nationwide hope, but not only resiliency and sustainability, but we’re hoping to not be reliant on other things, like the coal industry,” Ms. Overby said. “Our hope is to get rid of some of the fossil fuels fueling a lot of other problems for the environment around the world.”

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