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Porter warming up to solar panels

After years chasing windmills, the Town Board board has decided to consider using grant money on solar energy projects.

"The board seems to be much more in favor of [solar panels] than they were with wind turbines," Supervisor Merton K. Wiepert said. "You don't see [the panels] because they are on a roof. They are practically invisible. They are maintenance-free, practically."

In February 2010, the town received a competitive grant of $320,000 from New York State Energy and Research Development Authority. The money was to fund an energy project to reduce the town's energy footprint. In addition to reducing energy costs by as much as 50 percent, the project would also benefit the town by allowing it to sell back excess power generated.

But plans for installing four wind turbines faced several obstacles. Now the board is in jeopardy of losing the funding if it doesn't move forward with a project within the next few months.

The board was seeking a three-month extension from the authority about how the grant would be used when it learned that the money could be used for another project.

He said the town engineer is now meeting with solar-panel installers and will look at using the same grant money to fund solar panels. The panels would be placed on the roof at Town Hall and the town highway garage.

The board had been discussing a plan for four 120-foot, three-bladed, 10-kilowatt wind turbines but was having a problem determing where they would be built.

Plans to put two towers at Town Hall on Creek Road were rejected by the board in September. In November a follow-up plan to put two towers at the town garage on Braley Road was abandoned after a heated Planning Board meeting.

Another town site on Balmer Road, the site of the town water tower, was approved for placement of two towers, but because the 4.2-acre site was too small for four towers, the Town Board was looking to buy adjacent federal land from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Norm Ault, the assistant to the town supervisor, said last week that the panels would be placed at Town Hall and the highway garage.

Ault said that with the solar panels, the town could still benefit from energy savings that is the true goal of the grant-funded project.

"The board is still planning for someone from a solar company to come in to talk to the board and explain exactly what it means, what you would save, and if it is economical," Ault said.

However, time remains an issue. Wiepert said he expects the board to have a special informational meeting within the next few weeks.

"There are questions about the life expectancy of shingles under the panels. How about the wind? How are they secured? That's all new to us," Wiepert said.