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Russell solar panels switched on

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RUSSELL — Solar panels that will take care of most of the town government’s electrical needs are lighting up.

“We’re turning from a consumer of power to a producer of power,” town Supervisor Robert C. Best Jr. said. “We’re not going to make a lot of money, but it’s good for the environment.”

With the assistance of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which paid one-third of the cost of the system, the town opted for a $150,000 project that provides 121 solar panels soaking up the sun’s rays for power to the town barn, library and health clinic. Although the figures differ slightly for each building, overall payback is expected in about 15 years.

“The only money we’ll have to pay back is the money we save,” Mr. Best said. “That means no impact on taxpayers. It’s designed to produce about 110 percent of what we use.”

In the summer, when the sun is more evident, the town can produce enough power to meet its needs and earn credits with National Grid to turn in for the power it uses in the winter, when the skies are typically more cloudy.

“We’re going to be selling to National Grid at the same rate we buy it,” Mr. Best said.

In total, the systems will produce 43,842 kilowatt hours per year. The arrays are adjustable, so they can be tilted depending on the time of the year to maximize the power generated.

The town started looking at solar panels last spring and enlisted the help of Scott C. Shipley, Northern Lights Energy, Canton, and Fourth Coast, Clayton, which has expertise in solar systems for municipalities and the programs available to them. Mr. Shipley handled the more technical part of the hookups after town highway crews installed the panels.

“We actually built the thing with their guidance,” Mr. Best said. “That worked pretty good. It cut costs quite a bit, and it made it a community project.”

The work was done mostly during vacation periods when there were not enough workers to complete bigger jobs, Highway Superintendent Lawrence G. White said.

Mr. White said other municipalities should look into whether solar panels might work for them. “They need to get into the mindset of long term,” he said. “It will help control taxes in the future.”

The incentives for municipalities to install solar panels are not as beneficial as they are for homeowners but often are worthwhile, Mr. Shipley said.

“Because they’re in it for the long haul, the investment can still make sense for them,” he said. “A municipality is not going to be up and moving to a new location. It’s a way to guarantee what they’re going to be paying for electricity for the next 15 to 20 years.”

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