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Source: The Buffalo News

Solar energy initiative aired

Power Authority plan entails 100 megawatts produced across state


Posted: January 31, 2010
Originally Published: January 28, 2010

NIAGARA FALLS All kinds of public buildings under the sun, from schools to libraries to city halls, will be targeted as installation sites under a new state initiative to develop solar energy.

The New York Power Authority has issued a request for proposals with a goal of producing 100 megawatts of new generating capability across the state over the next four years, officials said Thursday.

The initiative will put the state "in the forefront as one of the leaders in photovoltaics and solar technology," authority President and Chief Executive Officer Richard M. Kessel said during a news conference at Niagara Falls High School.

Kessel hailed the prospects of job creation from the initiative, which initially was unveiled by the authority in Syracuse on Wednesday.

"This will create thousands of jobs," Kessel said Thursday, adding that the project will be "the largest solar initiative in the history of the State of New York."

The types of jobs created are expected to be both manufacturing and installation, Kessel said.

The authority will host a meeting Feb. 9 at its White Plains headquarters for parties interested in bidding. Bids are due April 22, and the authority plans to award contracts by Sept. 29.

Some construction could begin by the end of the year, Kessel said.

When asked about how much the initiative is expected to cost, Kessel declined to give an estimate but acknowledged it would exceed the range of tens of millions of dollars. He also said it would not increase the rates the authority charges for power.

Under the request for proposals, the state will be divided into five regions for the purposes of awarding projects: Western, Central, Northern, Southeastern and New York City.

Projects will be accepted in four categories: government, schools, parking lot canopies and "community solar." The last category would be solar-generating equipment installed on a large scale in empty fields or vacant lands for municipal utilities and rural cooperatives.

The electricity that's produced on rooftops of public buildings would be used to power the buildings themselves, under the authority's initiative. The deal also would involve 20-year power purchasing deals between the authority and the companies, which would own the equipment.

Brian P. Smith, Western New York program director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, called the authority's announcement "an important step" toward building a clean energy future for the area.

The authority looks to talk with Globe Specialty Metals, the company whose Niagara Falls operation, Globe Metallurgical, currently makes metallurgical-grade silicon. It already has plans to expand to produce purified silicon, which is used for solar cells.

"We will be meeting further with Globe Metals to see if they can expand their operations further," Kessel said.

Last year, the Power Authority and the University at Buffalo announced plans to install 5,000 ground-mounted solar panels on UB's North Campus in Amherst.

State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, who is chairman of the State Senate's Energy Committee, during the news conference called for the authority to give Niagara County some preference when installation projects are chosen.

Maziarz, who called the authority's request for proposals "a good first step," pointed to the authority's Niagara Power Project in Niagara County, which accounts for the vast majority of the authority's net profits of $298.5 million in 2008.

The authority took in $205 million in profits that year from operations at the Niagara power plant, which has the capacity to produce more than 2,200 megawatts of electricity.

"We are the New York State Power Authority, in reality," Maziarz said, noting he hopes the authority will include a scoring mechanism in its evaluation of projects that benefits Niagara County proposals.

The state currently produces about 20 megawatts of solar energy. The planned 100 solar megawatts would be enough to power about 15,000 homes, according to the authority.

Kessel promised 20 percent to 25 percent of projects would be built in Western New York.

"Many of these projects will be right here in this county," Kessel said, "and that's important."

To view the request for proposals, visit www.nypa.gov/solar/100mw.