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Solar power project proposed for Lackawanna

A proposal to build a solar power project on Willet Road in Lackawanna caught residents and many lawmakers by surprise Thursday night at the City Council.

The proposed solar installation is to be located on City of Lackawanna property at the end of Willet backing up to the New York State Thruway.

Administration officials submitted Thursday documents for the proposed plant site, the adoption of the power purchase agreement and transfer title of land.

“This property has set vacant forever,” said Fred K. Heinle, director of development. “The project would provide electrical service to the City of Lackawanna at a cost drastically reduced from our current service with National Grid. We have a guaranteed rate of 9.5 cents per kilowatt.”

The current kilowatt rate paid by Lackawanna is 12 cents.

The project is projected to save the cash-strapped city $1.4 million over the next 20 years.

Council President Keith Lewis, who lives on Willett, took Heinle to task for not telling the City Council about the project sooner.

“You started the conversation with the company over a year ago,” Lewis said to Heinle. “When was the first conversation you shared with the council?”

“One month ago, but the administration can enter into agreements,” Heinle countered. “It’s the transfer of property that requires council approval.”

The project would take two months to erect, said Darrin Harzewski, director of sales for CIR, a Lackawanna-based company. The bulk of the work would be placing the posts in the ground, said Harzewski. They would be topped by rails and then the solar panels.

“Once they go up, there’s actually little that will go wrong with them,” said Harzewski. “They’re really maintenance free. All the panels have non-reflective coatings to absorb the sun. There won’t be any glare coming off of them. Once it’s in place, it will be no different from what is already there.

“We have a few houses on that street where residential solar is being installed,” said Harzewski. “With solar data dating 30 years back, the savings estimates are pretty much on the money.”

Fourth Ward Councilman Jeffrey P. DePasquale represents the residents on Willett. He advised caution.

“The main thing is there’s a lot of hurdles that still have to be cleared before this project comes to fruition. We’re not having any bulldozers go down Willett Road tomorrow,” said DePasquale.

Third Ward Councilman Joseph Jerge was in favor of the project.

“It’s not a dog food factory. It’s not a junk yard or a salvage yard. It’s not something that will deteriorate the quality of life on that street,” said Jerge. “It’s doesn’t emit any pollution. It doesn’t make any noise.”

One resident spoke out about the narrowness of Willett.

“You know this Keith. When a school bus or a truck is coming, we’re all anticipating who is going to go off the road?” said the Willett Road resident. “That’s how narrow that street is. I don’t know if this street has the capacity to support all the vehicles.”

The Council voted 5-0 to adopt the power purchase agreement.

In other action, the council approved payment to Barclay Damon for legal services in the investigation of Police Chief James Michel. The final payment of $6,900 was $1,200 less than the original sum. The total paid by the city to the outside law firm to probe questionable payments to Michel was upwards of $70,000, said City Attorney Antonio Savagilo.

The value of the payments to Michel was between $37,000 and $45,000, depending whom you asked.