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Low-cost solar power deal will save Falls money

NIAGARA FALLS – Clean, renewable and discounted solar power is expected to save the City of Niagara Falls a total of $600,000 over the next 20 years.

The City Council unanimously agreed at a special meeting on Monday to purchase two megawatts of discounted power each year from SunEdison Origination at a projected annual savings of $30,000 per year.

SunEdison, of Toronto, builds solar arrays across the country and receives credits for power they produce. These credits are sold to municipalities or other large users.

Common Council Chairman Andrew P. Touma said city officials are excited to be partnering with SunEdison.

“We are talking about a significant amount of savings over the lifetime of this contract,” Touma said of the 20-year partnership.

Thomas DeSantis, the city’s senior planner, said, “The power doesn’t come to us. It goes into the grid. We get the credits. They get a percentage of the credit and we get a percentage of the credit.”

He said SunEdison only sells these blocks of power credits to large users, like commercial enterprises or municipalities, not individual users.

DeSantis said the city uses hundreds of megawatts of power for things like street lights, municipal buildings, pool filters, ice rinks and more and the city must pay for power like any other user. These two megawatts at a reduced rate, while not a major share of the millions of dollars spent, will still produce savings in the city budget that can be passed on to city taxpayers, he said.

“If we didn’t do this, the taxpayer would be paying that $30,000,” DeSantis said. “And now we are purchasing green power. There’s an environmental benefit as well.”

New York State allows investor-owned utilities to generate an overabundance of solar power and sell credits to other customers in the same utility region and load zone.

A solar panel array to be built later this year or early in 2017 in Rush, south of Rochester, will supply the power to be credited to Niagara Falls. The state offers several incentives to construct solar arrays.

Niagara Falls was grandfathered in under the 2015 program, which had a limited amount of megawatts eligible for the state incentive. DeSantis said the City Council took action Monday night at a special meeting so the city would be able to participate before all of the 2015 incentives were used up.

“Future allocations of power have a less beneficial rate,” he said.

He said the city already receives discounted power through an agreement with the New York Power Authority, so in order to realize any savings, it needed to participate at the lowered incentive rate.

Touma said the current agreement doesn’t preclude the city from looking at other opportunities for creating its own solar energy system and is hoping to do so.