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Plan to install solar panels on Tonawanda Landfill is delayed

SolarCity’s plan to install 8,500 solar panels on the Tonawanda Landfill has encountered a glitch now that National Grid has told the California-based company the project requires some costly equipment.

The utility’s requirement could affect how much the town will save on its electric bill.

Interconnection of the proposed photovoltaic system – a solar farm – to the grid needs “direct transfer trip equipment,” said National Grid spokesman Stephen F. Brady.

“Think of it as a circuit breaker with a brain,” Brady said by email. “In the event of a fault somewhere in the substation to which the generation is connected, this equipment trips the generation (the solar array) offline to prevent it from continuing to feed energy into the fault. Failing to do so creates a number of potential hazards and is a threat to the network and, more important, anyone working on the network.”

An estimate given to SolarCity was approximately $462,000, Brady said.

The Town of Tonawanda nearly one year ago picked SolarCity’s proposal from six submitted. Their agreement calls for the town to buy power for its facilities from SolarCity at a cost of $0.065 per kilowatt hour in the first year of the 20-year deal.

There’s no cost to the town for the photovoltaic system, and officials expected the deal to save the town $183,000 annually off its $2 million electric bill.

But the terms may have to be renegotiated, said Town Engineer Jim Jones. “The biggest thing is whether or not we’re going to have to negotiate a new rate schedule with SolarCity after the outcome of this big-ticket item,” he said.

The estimated savings were removed from the town’s tentative 2017 budget, which will be presented at Monday’s Town Board meeting, said Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger. “It has budget implications, obviously,” he said.

A SolarCity representative did not respond to a request for comment, but Jones said the parties met this week for a discussion.

SolarCity told National Grid it already has the required protection built in to its inverters, Jones said, however the algorithm used is proprietary. SolarCity said it would ask the company that created the algorithm to allow National Grid to test it to determine if it will provide adequate protection.

The solar farm would go on about 10 acres in the eastern portion of the landfill, which closed in the late 1980s.

The landfill is just west of Military Road in the northwest part of the town, along its border with the City of Tonawanda. The western portion of the landfill is contaminated by low-level radioactive residue from the Manhattan Project and is awaiting cleanup by the Army Corps of Engineers.

“It’s still a beneficial reuse of the landfill,” Jones said of SolarCity’s plan..

The agreement called for installation of the panels to begin last week. But that schedule has been pushed back to winter at the earliest — if the requirement for installation of direct transfer equipment is resolved, he said.


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