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Ogdensburg council hears solar power presentation, airport update

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For the second year in a row, city officials are hoping a solar power venture will be successful in obtaining a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority grant to help build a large photovoltaic system on outer Champlain Street.

The city plan calls for building a six-acre array on outer Champlain Street on property the city owns near the municipal landfill.

Representatives from RER Energy Group, Reading, Penn., and New Energy Equity LLC, Annapolis, Md., told the Ogdensburg City Council Monday that they will be submitting a NYSERDA grant application on Thursday seeking a portion of some $60 million in New York state funding to help pay for the construction of a photovoltaic system that could generate as much as 1.1 megawatts of electricity and save the city as much as $2 million over the 25-year life of the agreement.

The city of Ogdensburg uses about 3 megawatts of power annually to run the city government, and the solar array would generate about a third of the city’s annual needs according to officials.

Ian C. Palmer, Chief Executive Officer of New Energy Equity said there is no risk to the city because his company, with the help of a state energy grant and tax incentives, would pay for all construction and operating costs for 25 years.

He said if NYSERDA helps the private company construct the system, the financial incentives given will be passed onto the municipality in the form of cheaper rates. He said the final rate structure would be determined after factoring in the amount of incentives and the going rate for a kilowatt of hour.

Mr. Palmer said his company serves as the financial backbone of the plan, while RER Energy Group would provide on site construction and the technical know-how to make the system work.

Mr. Palmer told the council that private companies like his are needed to take advantage of the NYSERDA grant program because many of the renewable energy incentives offered come in the form of tax breaks.

“The way we come into this project is that we can pay for the project and take advantage of those incentives and then indirectly pass those incentives onto you in the form of lower energy rates,” Mr. Palmer said. “We do these projects all over the country and have quite a bit of experience.”

If his company is successful in securing a state grant and incentive package for the city’s proposed system, city taxpayers would not pay any up-front costs for the project.

“We are the ones paying for the installation, paying for the equipment and so on,” Mr. Palmer said. “There’s no out of pocket expense for Ogdensburg at all. There’s no up-front expense, there’s no maintenance expense. If something goes wrong we carry the insurance, if something breaks we have the warranty. If something is not on warranty, we pay.”

The city’s role in the project is to enter into a 25-year agreement to buy the energy produced at a set price. At the end of the 25 years, he said the city can enter into a new lease agreement, have the array torn down and removed at no cost, or assume ownership of the facility at a “fair market” price.

The two companies offering their presentation to City Council Monday said they expect to hear whether the application was successful sometime in September.

Following the presentation, council members held an executive session with the two companies to talk about a potential rate structure and terms for leasing the city land on outer Champlain Street. The council took no action following the closed door session.

In other action at Monday’s meeting, the council heard a presentation from Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority Chairman Samuel J. LaMacchia regarding plans to expand the runway at the Ogdensburg International Airport by approximately 1,200 feet to accommodate larger commercial aircraft. The current runway is 5,200 feet.

The OBPA is working with Allegiant Air to offer flights from Ogdensburg under a contract approved in June. The expansion could increase traffic by up to 40,000 passengers a year with larger jets seating as many as 150 passengers, according to Mr. LaMacchia.

Mr. LaMacchia said the proposed expansion continues on the fast track pending Federal Aviation Administration approval, and that Alllegiant Air is still hoping for a November 2016 start-up date.

“We’ve compacted a seven or eight year plan into three-and-a half-years,” he said.

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