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Ogdensburg government considers total energy independence through solar panels

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OGDENSBURG — The Maple City soon could become “the city upon the hill,” setting an example for American communities by producing all of its own power.

S. Ram Shrivastava, president of Larsen Engineers, Rochester, proposed Ogdensburg become an example of an energy-independent city by erecting solar panels and other renewable-energy generators on municipal property.

“It is a high goal, but it is achievable,” he said. “You can control the cost of your power, gain national recognition and build something that would be training and teaching for the next generation.”

City Manager John M. Pinkerton said a resolution supporting Mr. Shrivastava’s proposals would be before the City Council at its next meeting.

“If we have space to put the solar panels, I then would like to have them go and find a developer to do that,” he said.

The erection of the panels would be covered by grants from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s NY-SUN Photovoltaic Program, Mr. Shrivastava said.

“The governor has made this a priority. There will be a lot more solar power in New York in the next few years, and you should be a part of it,” he said.

The program provides $150 million each year for the development of municipal solar power facilities. Under Mr. Shrivastava’s proposal, a private company would apply for the grants and install the solar panels, enjoying state and federal tax incentives for building clean energy facilities.

“There are groups of folks who are solar-power developers,” Mr. Shrivastava said. “We send out requests for proposals to those companies.”

Larsen Engineers would handle the design and feasibility studies for the project, paid out of the grants.

Ogdensburg then would contract to buy electricity from the private company’s solar panels for 20 years.

“After 20 years the panels become the city’s,” Mr. Shrivastava said. “Your costs would go down even more, and the panels have a life of 40 years.”

Mr. Shrivastava said the city could begin the process of applying for grants and looking for private partners without worrying about being locked in.

“Typically these things are nonbinding,” he said.

The grant application is due by March 14, and funds could be awarded during spring. If the grants are secured, Ogdensburg and its partners would have eight months to implement the project.

Mr. Shrivastava, a graduate of Clarkson University, Potsdam, said solar power was a viable source of electricity in the north country.

“Many people think the north country is too cold or too far north for solar energy, but solar panels work better in a cold climate,” he said.

City government uses 2.5 megawatt hours of electricity a year. Grants are available to build up to two megawatt hours of electricity generation a year. The plan would design electricity generation to meet that need while searching for ways to reduce Ogdensburg’s power demand.

“When you add up demand reduction with your production, it zeroes out — you make as much as you consume,” Mr. Shrivastava said.

If the demand still exists, the city could have additional panels built with subsequent grants.

Mr. Pinkerton said the plan would not only save the city money, but also set an example for other municipalities around the world.

“If all went well, it might put us on the leading edge for a change — that would be nice,” he said.

Council members liked the idea in principle, but said they wanted more information before supporting the plan. One complication, Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley said, is a recent agreement for the city to buy electricity at a set cost for three years from a third-party provider.

“I need more information before I can gauge what is going on,” he said. “We committed ourselves to two or three years, a long-term contract to buy power. If we’re obligated to them, how are we going to enter another agreement?”

Mr. Pinkerton said any agreement with Larsen Engineers would be reviewed by City Attorney Andrew W. Silver to make sure it did not conflict with previous city contracts.

Mr. Morley wanted to know where Ogdensburg would put the panels.

“I can’t believe we have enough rooftops to put these in. Where are we going to put these? In parks? These are things they usually put in isolated areas, not right in a community.”

Mr. Shrivastava said a 5-acre solar farm could produce enough power for municipal buildings. Ms. Stevenson said the city should be able to find the space.

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