Orchard Park may not get any more sun than the rest of Western New York, but town officials figure it's enough to help them with their energy costs.
The town has reached an agreement with Solar Liberty, a Williamsville company, to install solar panels on the roof of the town's highway department building.
The key to the deal? It's free, at least to the town.
The company is using funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to pay for the project.
While the agency's incentive program pays up to 70 percent for nonprofit agencies and municipalities, the company donates the rest of the cost in labor and services, said Solar Liberty's Nathan Rizzo.
"On average, Buffalo receives 4.03 sun hours a day out of a 12-hour measuring period, and the bulk of the sun will be during the summer," Rizzo said. "We feel for a free system, they're still going to get a great deal of benefit. They'll offset their summer usage greatly."
Orchard Park will put 704 cells and 5,600 square feet of photo-voltaic cells on the building.
Town officials say they have been told they can expect to save up to one-third on their electricity bills.
"That's about $6,000 a year [in savings] now, and I've never seen utility costs go down," said Highway Superintendent Fred Piasecki.
The town and Solar Liberty still are finalizing plans to do the same for the Orchard Park Library.
The library savings will go to the Erie County library system, but "that will benefit all of us ultimately," said Councilwoman Nan Ackerman, who was instrumental in bringing Solar Liberty to the town.
Solar Liberty is the only NYSERDA-certified installer for the systems in Erie County. It's also working on projects for the Greater Niagara Frontier Council Boy Scouts of America and for the Buffalo Audubon Society.
The technology uses an energy-trapping gas locked between two layers of glass. The "thin film" cells aren't as efficient as some forms of solar energy, but they're cheaper and easier to install.
Rizzo said with existing technology, payback time on solar energy systems is about seven to 10 years for nonsubsidized residential systems and one to five years for business systems.
The NYSERDA incentives are part of a $22.9 million fund. NYSERDA is funded by charges on electricity distributed in New York State.