Thursday, March 6, 2008

Taxpayer save $14,000 since 2005 with Solar Panels

Auditor: Solar power leads to savings

By CAROL DeMARE, Staff writer, as printed in the Albany Times Union
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Last updated: 5:55 p.m., Thursday, March 6, 2008

ALBANY Six municipalities in New York, including Albany County, have saved on energy costs through the use of solar power in government facilities, according to a state comptroller's audit released Thursday.

Three years ago, County Executive Mike Breslin approved plans to install a 40-kilowatt photovoltaic, or PV, system on the roof of the county-operated hockey facility in Colonie across from the airport.

The system uses crystalline silicon modules in the solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity, providing up to one-fourth of the facility's entire power load.

New York State Energy and Research Development Authority helped fund the Albany project with proceeds from a lawsuit filed by then Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and counterparts from four other states against coal-fueled plants in Virginia and West Virginia that sent dirty winds eastward in violation of the Clean Air Act. New York received $2 million of the $14 million settlement.

"With the rising cost and dwindling quantity of fossil fuels, along with the toll on the environment and public health, it makes sense to promote the use of renewable and clean energy sources," DiNapoli said. "Local governments can realize financial savings by utilizing solar power and taking advantage of state programs that provide important support."

Albany County has seen savings. From the summer of 2005 when the system became operational until now, county officials estimated taxpayers saved $14,000 in energy costs, county spokeswoman Maureen Murphy said.

Looking ahead, the county estimates that after 25 years it will realize a $136,000 return on its investment and $230,000 after 50 years, she said.

Albany County's costs included $12,500 in consultant's fees that were over and above the general engineering services of the installation company, the audit said. The county will pay $34,030 in bond interest over 20 years, it said.

At the time the project was under way, Breslin called it a "wise investment that will reduce our reliance on traditional energy sources."

In addition to Albany County, state auditors evaluated the use of solar power by the Ulster County towns of Woodstock and Rosendale, the Ulster County village of New Paltz, the Nassau County town of Hempstead and the Tompkins County town of Lansing. All received financial and technical assistance from NYSERDA.

The audit was conducted for the period January 2003 to July 2007 and found that by installing solar panel electrical systems, the municipalities realized immediate savings on electrical bills and reduced environmental emissions. Millions of pounds of air pollution could be reduced over the life of the panels, the audit said.

A photo of the hockey facility's roof that depicts the solar panels was included in the comptroller's report.

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