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Southern Cayuga solar panel hearing 1-8-19

Residents listen at a public hearing for a proposed solar panel system capital project for the Southern Cayuga Central School District at the high school library Tuesday.

POPLAR RIDGE — Residents offered questions and praise at a public hearing for the Southern Cayuga Central School District's proposal for a solar panel system.

The project is for a $1.5 million, 750 kilowatt solar panel array that would span 3 acres on the district's property. The district is set to partner with Renovus Solar in Ithaca. The proposed undertaking qualifies for the highest grant available from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority, at 45 cents per watt for solar projects 750 kilowatts or below. If voters approve the project, the district aims to get the project approved by April, begin construction by July and start producing power by October. While a public vote is not required for the project, the state would gain another 10 percent in state aid through a successful vote as a incentive, according to a project summary on the district's website.

Over 80 percent of the project's cost would be handled by $877,083 in state building aid and $337,669 from the development authority. Credits from New York State Electric & Gas for energy produced on district property by the panel system would pay the remaining amount, with the project not expected to increase local taxes.

A public vote on the project is set for Tuesday, Jan. 15.

The district estimates it would save around $62,000 on its energy bill in its first full year of the array operating, district superintendent Patrick Jensen said, with around half of that covering maintenance and debt service and resulting in a net positive gain of around $32,000 for the district. The panels have a 25-year guarantee from the manufacturer, Jensen said, with a cumulative net positive gain of $1.36 million estimated over that time. 

Jensen said that though $1.5 million is the figure on the legal paperwork for the project, it is anticipated to cost around $1.4 million, with the rest potentially covering any incidental costs that may pop up. Jensen said that any leftover funds would likely be directed toward debt service for the project. The energy generated by the solar panels would be directed to customers on the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation's grid.

After Jensen explained the idea and financials behind the project Tuesday, district residents asked various questions, such as whether the panels would be American made. Kate Millar, vice president of project development for Renovus, said the panels would likely be coming from Taiwan, as American panels at the volume needed for the project are not available. The question of what would happen to the parts after 25 years came up, to which Millar responded that the parts are meant to be recyclable.

The idea of an educational entity generating electricity was also questioned, to which Jensen said the savings the project would provide make it too advantageous for the district to pass up.

Mark Vorreuter thanked the district and Renovus for their efforts and said after the meeting that he believes "it's great that the school has been able to create an investment that pays for itself."

Jensen said Thursday that he was glad so many people showed up at the hearing. He said that a couple people called the day after the hearing to go over the project's numbers and were supportive of the project after that. He said he felt good about the Jan. 15 vote.

"I got a lot of positive feedback," he said.

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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Education Reporter