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Rochester firm touts municipal energy independence at Lowville forum


LOWVILLE — A Rochester engineering firm on Tuesday evening brought a sunny message of energy independence to local municipal officials.

“You have the control,” S. Ram Shrivastava, president of Larsen Engineers, told a group of 10 representatives of Lewis County, the town and village of Lowville and the town of Watson gathered at the Lowville fire hall. “You can seize the power.”

Mr. Shrivastava, a graduate of Clarkson University, Potsdam, said the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s first-year NY-SUN Photovoltaic Program offers grant funding for solar projects of 200 kilowatts or greater.

Municipal solar projects benefit communities not only by being environmentally friendly, but also through cost savings, he said.

“When you have the green you can put in your pocket, that’s nice, too,” Mr. Shrivastava said.

He touted public-private partnerships in which one or more municipalities contract with a private firm to install solar arrays on either public property or land leased by a municipality.

Under that setup, the private partner would not only be eligible for NYSERDA grant funding but also for federal tax credits and other benefits that a municipality would not be, Mr. Shrivastava said.

The municipality would contract to buy electricity from the private company’s solar panels — at a fixed cost lower than the current, rising rates — for at least seven years, when tax credits would expire, then at some point buy the facility at a depreciated fair-market value, he said.

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

The group would first analyze current usage and utility costs for all municipal buildings to be included in the project, then recommend energy-efficiency upgrades and could size the project to cover all electrical needs, Mr. Shrivastava said.

However, the buildings would remain hooked to the grid so they wouldn’t be fully dependent on the system, he said.

“Nighttime you buy it, daytime you sell it,” Mr. Shrivastava said, adding that the intent would be to sell at least as much energy as is bought.

Solar panel systems don’t have a “major maintenance cost,” with panels expected to last at least 40 years and converters lasting 10 to 15 years, and they tend to function better in relatively cold and wet climates, he said.

Alternative energy projects may be done jointly by multiple municipalities, Mr. Shrivastava said, noting that larger projects tend to get more bidding interest from private companies.

Larsen representatives in January made a similar presentation to Ogdensburg city officials. They have also overseen several past municipal solar and energy-efficiency projects, including a few in Wayne and Orleans counties.

Village Trustee Dan L. Salmon said he appreciated the forum but would like to see more hard figures on any benefits to the other communities before moving forward with any such project here.

Larsen officials indicated they would be able to provide that information.

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