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Niagara County gives up on landfill solar energy plan

LOCKPORT – The notion of covering acres of Niagara County-owned land with solar panels has been scrapped, the Niagara County Legislature learned Tuesday night.

Dawn M. Timm, the county’s environmental coordinator, said the projections that the county could make millions of dollars through the sale of the power didn’t pan out. In fact, because of the wild fluctuations of the energy market, there was a chance that in some months, the county might lose money on the deal.

Timm said the expense involved in connecting the output of the solar panels to the power grid was the primary cost that couldn’t be overcome.

The Legislature voted last summer to begin talks with Solar Liberty Energy Systems, an Amherst company. It had proposed to generate as much as 1.8 megawatts of electricity at each of three sites with seven acres of solar panels at each location: Landfill 2 at the county Refuse Disposal District complex on the Lockport Bypass; a field on Junction Road in Cambria; and the county Sewer District treatment plant on Liberty Drive in Wheatfield.

The county was to lease the sites to Solar Liberty, which was to cash in through state solar power incentives and federal tax credits. The county was projected to save millions on its utility bills.

With fluctuating energy prices and the expenses the county might have to cover, “There’s less likelihood for profit,” Timm said.

The county obtained a record of monthly power prices for the past 4½ years from a consulting firm, Fluent Energy, and concluded the solar project wasn’t viable.

Meanwhile, Timm said she expects to ask the Legislature May 3 to award a contract for capping the construction and demolition landfill at the Lockport Bypass site. Timm said the tab for the cap, along with new leachate and surface runoff controls, is expected to be about $2.3 million, with Mark Cerrone of Niagara Falls the apparent low bidder.

NRC, a Syracuse company, also is expected to receive a contract for a new leachate pumping system and electrical upgrades at Landfill 2.

Also Tuesday, the Legislature ratified a new contract with the Probation Officers Association. The pact is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012, and expires at the end of 2021.

Union members will receive a $2,500 lump-sum payment if they were on the payroll in 2014. Everyone receives a 1.5 percent retroactive raises for 2015, 2 percent annual raises from this year through 2020, and a 2.5 percent pay increase in 2021.

Union members will begin making monthly payments toward their health insurance, which will increase until 2019, when they will pay 5 percent of the premium, capped at $2,000 a year. New hires will pay 10 percent of the premium.

The Legislature also appropriated almost $1.45 million to pay the costs of retroactive pay and this year’s raises for the Deputy Sheriffs Association, and about $968,000 to pay similar expenses for members of the Police Benevolent Association. Both of those Sheriff’s Office unions approved new contracts last month.

In another matter, the Legislature appointed North Tonawanda Mayor Arthur G. Pappas to the county Industrial Development Agency board. He fills the seat vacated last week by Henry M. Sloma, who announced his resignation Thursday. Seemingly demonstrating that insiders knew when Sloma was going, Pappas’ letter of interest was dated Wednesday, the day before Sloma resigned.