Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Solar Tariffs Seem Certain to Hurt U.S. Installation Market

The U.S. solar sector, which has seen its share of ups and downs, is bracing for yet another swell - more tariffs levied on Chinese solar panel manufacturers.

The recent June 3 ruling by the U.S. Department of Commerce was made in an effort to close a loophole in the 2012 tariff ruling, which allowed Chinese solar manufacturers to circumvent the tax by sourcing photovoltaic cells from nearby Taiwan and Korea.

Here is the question on everyone's mind: Will this ruling help or hurt solar business?

For the last several years, the U.S. solar installation market has largely benefited from low PV panel costs, primarily driven by Chinese suppliers. However, the downside of low-cost panels flooding the market is that U.S.-based solar manufacturers have been forced to choose between selling their panels below cost or losing critical market share by selling at uncompetitive premiums.

So what does this mean for the U.S. solar installation market?

"Prices for solar systems are inching up," says Jaymes Callinan, president of commercial solar installation firm Vista Solar. "In the few weeks since the tariffs were announced, we've seen prices from module suppliers increase by about six percent."

Price increases aren't just limited to Chinese solar panel manufacturers. As the fiercely competitive solar panel manufacturing industry moves to source new tariff-compliant suppliers, those very suppliers are rapidly becoming hot commodities. As in all things, when demand is up and supply is low, prices rise. Tariff-free suppliers are renegotiating long-term contracts, cherry-picking partners and inevitably raising prices to match their scarcity.

"The real question is not how much the cost of panels will rise, but how availability will be affected," Callinan says. "None of the manufacturers win if they raise their pricing to the point where our customer's paybacks go above the five-year threshold, which is regarded as the sound investment marker for most chief financial officers. It doesn't matter how much margin is being made on solar panels if no one is buying them."

Callinan thinks that the immediate concern for the solar sector is whether there will be enough non-tariff solar modules available in the second half of the year to meet the growing demand of the U.S. market.

Further complicating the situation is a second anti-dumping case that is expected to issue more tariff rulings against Chinese module suppliers in July.

"While we don't anticipate supply issues in 2015, we've seen a major up-tick in interest from clients who are moving to secure panels this year before the second round of tariffs come down in July," Callinan says. "The fact is, with federal tax credits set to expire in 2016, state rebates disappearing daily and these trade cases increasing the cost of modules, it will be awhile before an investment in solar looks this good again."

While the tariff rulings and resulting price increases and availability issues appear to be a setback to the industry, if there's anything that the U.S. solar sector has proven over the last decade, it's that it can weather a storm. From rebate drops to fluctuating tax incentives and net-metering battles with the utilities, the solar sector has demonstrated that it's able to weather these storms.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Solar Array Dedicated in Belchertown Expected to Start Producing Electricity Next Week

KEVIN GUTTING The owners of Evergreene Golf, a miniature golf course on Ware Road (Rt. 9) in Belchertown, have leased adjacent land, just to the south, for a solar array.
BELCHERTOWN — Town Planner Douglas Albertson called a new 1.5 megawatt solar array that was dedicated Thursday at the former driving range of the Evergreene mini-golf course “a point of pride” for the community.

Albertson spoke to about 20 people including town officials and representatives from Nexamp, the Boston-based solar developer that built the power generating plant. They gathered at the site on 11 acres along Route 9 for speeches and a tour of the solar field. Nexamp has a 20-year lease on the land that belongs to Barbara and Richard Greene.

Nexamp vice president for business development Christopher Clark, said the project is a “win-win for a multitude of stakeholders” which was made possible by “an aggressive incentive program” under which Massachusetts expects to see the production statewide of 1,600 megawatts of solar-generated electricity by 2020.

Project manager Brandon Doane gave the tour of panels containing 5,071 modules on the site that are mounted in the ground at a 23-degree angle to the sky.

Barbara Greene said that it took three years to complete the project since Nexamp approached her and her husband about building the array. She expects National Grid to start actually drawing energy off the site next week.

Albertson said he is “a big fan” of solar energy and that he hopes to see more of it in Belchertown in years to come. He installed solar panels of the roof of his home last year and the town’s building inspector has been getting an increasing number of applications from people who want to do the same.

“The bigger picture is that this is what we need to be doing as a society for our future,” said Albertson. “Solar is something we can generate in Massachusetts and we don’t need to import it.”

He pointed out that another firm, Solar Design Associates of Harvard, is considering building solar panels as part of a development plan for the former Belchertown State School property. “I kind of like it,” Albertson said of the idea, although there is not yet a formal proposal.

Clark said Nexamp is currently working on two projects in Hadley, both on land it is leasing from Wayne Goulet. The first, a 3-megawatt facility on slightly less than 10 acres north of Mill Valley Road is due to go on line in the next few weeks, said Clark.

Permits are being obtained for the other, a 2.5-megawatt site which is expected to produce electricity within 1½ years, Clark said that.


Japan’s Solar Energy Capacity Continues to Show Impressive Growth

Report highlights the country’s growing solar power capacity

Japan is becoming one of the world’s leading solar energy markets. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has released a report concerning the country’s growing solar power capacity. Over the past year, Japan’s solar capacity has increased significantly, partly due to the falling cost of photovoltaic technologies and the increased domestic production of these technologies. The government has also been funding the development of the solar energy sector throughout the country quite aggressively.

More than 7 GW of solar capacity was installed in Japan over the past fiscal year

The figures highlighted in the report are based on data provided by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. The report shows that more than 7 gigawatts of solar capacity was installed throughout Japan during the past fiscal year. This represents a 10-fold increase over the country’s capacity as recorded in early 2013. Much of Japan’s solar growth is being attributed to the development of commercial solar energy systems and the growing popularity of rooftop photovoltaic systems.

Residential solar power continues to gain momentum thanks to government incentives

The residential sector had been the most prominent market for solar power in Japan before the development of commercial-scale energy projects won more support from the Japanese government. Residential photovoltaic systems are still growing in popularity among homeowners that are interested in renewable energy and saving money by reducing their consumption of fossil-fuels through utilities. Japan’s solar feed-in tariff has gone a long way to promote the adoption of solar power among the country’s homeowners.

Japan expected to become a leading solar power market as more solar projects begin to take form throughout the country

Solar energy is expected to continue seeing significant growth throughout Japan for the foreseeable future. There are currently several solar projects under development in the country, such as the Oita Solar Project. This particular project has already established a longstanding power purchase agreement with Kyushu Electric Power Company. This project has a capacity of 82 megawatts and is one of several similar projects that are beginning to work alongside Japanese utilities.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Growing Solar Panel Use Poses Huge Safety Risk for Firefighters

Firefighters battle the so-called Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad, California May 14, 2014. REUTERS/Sam Hodgson
Solar panel use is on the rise due to lowering costs and generous federal, state and local subsidies. But rooftop solar panels pose a huge risk firefighters trying to put out burning buildings and rescue those who may be trapped inside.

In the American Southwest, many homes are putting up rooftop solar panels, but in areas that are already a high risk for fires, this poses an extra level of danger to firefighters.

Firefighters in Arizona are preparing to meet the challenge of putting out fires at an increasing number of homes and buildings using rooftop solar. The problem with solar panels is that they can electrocute firefighters and make it harder for fires to be put out and buildings to be saved.

Solar panels’ photovoltaic cells are “producing a live electrical current that cannot simply be turned off like a traditional grid-powered electrical connection,” explains the East Valley Tribune. “That means whenever fire crews need to go on the roof for access, venting or to apply water to a growing fire, extra precautions must be taken.”

This means that even the solar panel’s connection to the electrical grid is severed, it can still generate electricity, producing a shocking surprise for rescue workers. It’s not only electrocution that firefighters must worry about, but the added weight of a solar array can cause rooftops to collapse more quickly than anticipated.

“The thing is identifying it early, making sure we secure the system … but you can’t turn the system off,” said Keith Welch, battalion chief of the Chandler Fire Department in Arizona, told the East Valley Tribune.

But that’s not all. Solar panels also block ventilation and water access to the roof of a burning buildings, according to firefighters. Welch told the East Valley Tribune that sometimes fire crews must wait for buildings to partially collapse in order to get around the solar panels and get inside. This is on top of the concern of spraying water onto live, energy-producing circuitry.

CBS Los Angeles reported in February that “a fire at an industrial complex outside Philadelphia burned for 29 hours because firefighters say they couldn’t get to the roof since it was covered with energized solar panels.”

But it’s not just a problem for firefighters in the southwest, as many homes across the New England and the northeast have also installed rooftop solar panels.

“There certainly have been examples with power being backfed into the site that have killed firefighters in adjacent states,” Northampton, Massachusetts Fire Chief Brian Duggan told 22WWLP’s I-Team.

Duggan also told the I-Team that it takes a lot longer for firefighters about twice as long to cut through roofs in a blaze to get ventilation in the roof.

“As an example in Easthampton there was a ventilation hole cut in a roof, it took about 25 minutes to do it, this would elongate that time by approximately double,” he said.

Danbury, Connecticut’s Deputy Fire Chief Mark Omasta told the News Times that even the floodlights used to illuminate emergency scenes can cause solar panels to generate electricity.

“We could use tarps to cover the panels, but the conduit that goes from the panels to the inverter is usually still charged,” Omasta said. “We are teaching our firefighters to always treat solar panels as live electricity.”

Firefighters in the northeast are expecting more buildings to install solar in the coming years and are beginning to adjust their training and firefightings strategies to cope with this development.

“With all the incentives that are being offered to homeowners and businesses to go solar, we expect to see a lot more solar arrays in the next five to 10 years,” Omasta said. “We’ll definitely have to adjust our strategy when it comes to these structures.”

The solar industry says it’s working with firefighters across the country “ to improve fire safety through the development of building codes and product standards.”

“We’re working diligently to better educate firefighters about how solar works,” the Solar Energy Industries Association said in a statement.

But Gregory Garrison, president of Northeast Solar, told 22WWLP’s I-Team that solar panels don’t pose a big risk to firefighters.

“The only issue that remains for them is maybe ventilating the roof and finding the convenient way to ventilate the roof,” he said. “Technology is continuing to advance to provide those solutions for us, but for right now, from an electrical standpoint, they pose no issues.”


Solar Boat Team Makes ‘Splash’ at Intercollegiate Competition

The Northeastern Solar Boat club finished in second place and won most improved team at the 2014 Solar Splash competition earlier this month in Ohio. Contributed photo
Mem­bers of Northeastern’s Solar Boat club had planned to rebuild in 2014, fore­going a chance to win now in exchange for future success.

Turns out, the future is now: Ear­lier this month, North­eastern fin­ished second overall and was named the most improved team at the annual Solar Splash com­pe­ti­tion in Ohio. In 2013, the North­eastern team fin­ished 10th.

“This year was sup­posed to be a tran­si­tion year for us,” said first-​​year club pres­i­dent Christo­pher Hickey, E’16, whose team also won a sprint race, fin­ished second in the slalom, and placed third in visual dis­play. “It was great we ended up being so suc­cessful because it showed that our pre­de­ces­sors left the club in good shape.”

Solar Splash began in 1994 and is billed by orga­nizers as the world cham­pi­onship of inter­col­le­giate solar/​electric boating.

Northeastern’s student-​​run engi­neering club designs, builds, and races a 19-​​foot long solar-​​powered boat, giving mem­bers a chance to apply skills they have learned on co-​​op and in the classroom.

This year, the team worked to build a boat that could with­stand each and every event at Solar Splash, which wasn’t the case at last year’s com­pe­ti­tion. “Our goal was to not have parts of the boat break on us,” said club alumnus Scott Kil­coyne, E’14, who worked with the team at the com­pe­ti­tion. “I’d say we def­i­nitely succeeded.”

One redesign required the club mem­bers to make the boat’s five solar panels, rather than buying them. This marked the second time in the club’s five-​​year his­tory that the stu­dents built the solar panels them­selves. Not only are the custom panels lighter and more robust, Kil­coyne explained, but they also boost performance.

“The com­pe­ti­tion rules state that teams are allowed 528 watts of energy for home-​​built panels and 480 watts of energy for com­mer­cially built panels,” he explained. “They’re trying to encourage teams to build their own.”

Hickey noted that this year’s results were even more impres­sive because of the club’s lim­ited prac­tice time. Since the Charles River was frozen into May, the team mem­bers could do little to test their single-​​person boat, which can reach a speed of 25 miles per hour.

“We only had about a month to test the boat with all of our updates,” Hickey said, which included new pon­toons to keep the boat stable and above water.

The club’s 10 active mem­bers work year-​​round, tin­kering and fine-​​tuning, but they some­times solicit out­side help. In the past they have uti­lized other engi­neering stu­dents’ cap­stone projects for design ideas; for example, the club’s first iter­a­tion of the hand­made solar panels derived from a cap­stone project.

“It’s good to get a fresh bit of knowl­edge and exper­tise that the club might not have,” Kil­coyne said.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Finding Common Ground on Solar

Over the past 18 months, states across the country have seen utility companies and the solar industry embroiled in high-pitched battles about the future of rooftop solar. As CEOs from either side of the debates, one from a utility and the other from a national rooftop solar company, we rarely agree on the topic — until now. A landmark bill in the Massachusetts Legislature is the first major example of our two sides finding comprehensive common ground on solar policy.

If passed, the bill would help ensure a stable solar future for Massachusetts. It would also continue Massachusetts’ strong track record of leadership on renewable energy and set an example for other states across the country.

Among the agreements, the legislation would put in place Governor Patrick’s goal of installing 1,600 megawatts of solar in Massachusetts by 2020. Patrick announced this plan in May of 2013 after surpassing his original 250 megawatt goal four years early. In fact, National Grid recently interconnected a project that brings the company’s total amount of customer-owned solar in Massachusetts to 228 megawatts and is on pace to process about 5,000 applications for interconnections in Massachusetts this year. The new 1,600 megawatt goal affirms Massachusetts’ leadership in ensuring a cleaner future, and the proposal would further solidify the commitment.

The legislation would also remove the Massachusetts net metering cap for solar customers. Net metering policy gives rooftop solar customers retail credit for the surplus energy they put back on the grid. This bill proposes to eliminate any cap on the number of customers that can participate.

In addition, the proposal assures that the costs of the distribution system are supported by all users through electric rates in a fair manner. This reform demonstrates utilities’ and the solar industry’s joint commitment to aligning rate design and solar growth in a sustainable way.

The legislation also proposes to replace Massachusetts’ current solar incentive program with a more stable and efficient alternative. The new program will have incentive levels that reflect market realities and step down over time as solar costs continue to drop. This structure ensures predictability to encourage more private investment, job creation, and economic growth through the Massachusetts solar market.

Massachusetts has been at the forefront of change since our nation’s founding, and the passage of this legislation would build on that leadership. While heated debates between utilities and the solar industry continue across the country, Massachusetts can set the example for what common ground looks like.

We are proud to have the opportunity to participate in the state’s history of positive change. The program embedded in the bill will assure solar developers and owners are compensated fairly, while putting in place incentive structures that lower the costs of this important clean energy initiative for all electric consumers across the state.


Seaside Solar Plan Gets Another Look

BRIDGEPORT -- The Connecticut Siting Council is heading to Seaside Park this summer.

But unlike the visitors who head there for swimming, sunbathing, picnics and sporting events, this trip is all business.

The utility regulatory body's members on Thursday agreed to hold a public hearing in Bridgeport on United Illuminating's plan to, with Mayor Bill Finch's enthusiastic cooperation, erect 9,000 solar panels atop a landfill adjacent to Seaside Park.

A pleased Councilman Enrique Torres, R-130, called the Siting Council's announcement "huge."

He and other critics have complained that the plan industrializes historic Seaside Park. Having failed this winter to keep the Parks Commission and City Council from embracing the idea to lease the former dump to UI, opponents appealed to the siting authorities for another opportunity to plead their case.

"UI argued no hearing was necessary since the locals approved it," Torres said. "The Siting Council disagreed. It gives us an opportunity to argue our case once again."

"Bullish investment"

The nine-person Siting Council is charged with reviewing utility projects and balancing the need for adequate, reliable, reasonably priced services with protecting the environment and scenic, historic and recreational assets.

"We did get numerous requests from members of the public," said Melanie Bachman, the Siting Council's acting executive director. "Given the size of the project and the public interest, the council in its discretion decided it would be wise to hold a public hearing on the matter."

Bachman noted siting officials have held similar hearings for UI solar projects in Somers and East Lyme.

A date still has to be chosen. Bachman said the visit would be several hours, beginning in the early afternoon with a visit to the landfill for UI to walk council members thorough the plans.

Then an evidentiary hearing will be held during which the council will cross examine UI. The public speaking portion will likely happen around 7 p.m., Bachman said.

A UI spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Finch spokesman Brett Broesder said in a statement that the solar array was thoroughly vetted at the local level and is a "bullish investment in Bridgeport's future" that will create jobs and cleaner energy.

"This project will help make Bridgeport a place where our kids and grandkids will choose to live, work and raise their families," Broesder said.

Broesder said the mayor will make a personal appearance at the Siting Council's hearing.

While the lease deal was a victory in Finch's efforts to make Bridgeport a leader in the green economy, the solar project's approval proved embarrassing for the Democratic administration, which was caught off guard by some of the opposition and wound up having to work harder than anticipated last winter to explain the lease and push it through.

At one point the Parks Commission voted the proposal down, leading the City Attorney's office to subsequently make the controversial declaration that the group's vote was "non-binding" and could be ignored by the City Council.

Instead Finch had the mayoral-appointed parks board vote again, producing the desired lease approval.

Then the mostly Democratic Council voted 15-5 in mid-March to finalize the 20-year lease with UI.

"I thought this was put behind us and we were moving forward with this historic solar project," said Onte Johnson, head of the city's Sierra Club branch, about Thursday's Siting Council decision. "We will be there for the hearing and testify and give our support, as we have in the past. We still think this project is very important."

Torres was optimistic the opposition's case will be viewed more objectively by the Siting Council than by local boards.

Asked if he was willing to live with a Siting Council decision to endorse the solar array, Torres said no.

"I am not willing to concede this facility, at this location, ever," he said.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

HDB Ramps Up Solar Leasing With Latest Tender

Experts say the move is a shot in the arm for energy development here and proves that the concept is economically viable.
The HDB’s solar test-bed site in Serangoon North Avenue 3. (Photo: TODAY/Ernest Chua)
SINGAPORE: The Housing and Development Board (HDB) has called for the largest solar-leasing tender to date, under which solar photovoltaic (PV) panels will be installed on the rooftops of about 500 HDB blocks managed by the Marine Parade, Jurong, Tampines and Sembawang town councils.

The 20 megawatts-peak (MWp) of electricity generated – enough to power more than 4,000 four-room HDB flats – could be used in common areas, to power lifts, corridor and staircase lights, for example, in these blocks as well as the Toa Payoh HDB Hub, the Woodlands Civic Centre and a factory building in Bedok North.

The tender, which was published on May 23 on the Government Electronic Business (GeBIZ) portal and closes on July 11, eclipses an earlier one put up by the HDB in August last year for a company to own and operate 5MWp for 125 blocks – which was then touted as the single largest project – in Ang Mo Kio, Sengkang, Serangoon North and Buangkok.

The pace at which HDB is ramping up solar leasing is a shot in the arm for the development of solar energy here and proves that the concept is economically viable, experts said.

When contacted, an HDB spokeswoman confirmed that the tender is the largest to date. More details will be announced later, she said.

In the August tender, the HDB would offset up to 30 per cent of the start-up costs and buy the electricity from the successful bidder for 20 years at a lower price than the prevailing market rate.

The HDB has not announced the award of this tender.

Dr Thomas Reindl, Deputy CEO of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore, said after Singapore achieved grid parity in 2012 – where the cost of installing and maintaining solar PV panels is on a par with using conventional electricity – solar leasing has established itself as a viable business model in the country.

He added: “As soon as it makes economic sense, the private sector will take care of the market uptake and fast adoption (of the technology).”

Other prominent solar-leasing projects under way include that at the newly opened Sports Hub, to which solar company Phoenix Solar Singapore leases 707kWp.

The firm’s commercial director Chee Yeen Yee said that while the solar-leasing model is still relatively new here, its introduction has opened up a new market that is largely driven by government tenders. Increasingly, commercial building owners are also showing interest, she added.

Sunseap Leasing, a solar-system developer, expressed interest in bidding for the latest HDB tender. The company was awarded a tender in January last year to lease 3MWp to 80 blocks of flats in Punggol Eco-Town, among other solar-leasing projects on its books.

Its business development manager Shawn Tan noted that the latest tender documents did not provide an option for bidders to state an amount they require the HDB to subsidise as part of start-up costs. He felt this could possibly indicate the authorities’ confidence in the viability of the solar-leasing model for housing blocks.

Instead, bidders are assessed on the efficiency of their systems and the amount of discounts they can offer on the tariffs, he noted.

Town councils involved in the latest tender said the use of solar energy is not only good for the environment, but will also reduce their electricity bills, which have ballooned in recent years due to higher tariffs.

With economic viability no longer a challenge, Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University, said the intermittency of solar energy – it could be affected by cloud cover, for example – could become a constraint if Singapore ramps up its use of such renewable energy.

One of the solutions include looking at storing energy that is generated, he added.


Wind and Solar Survey Prepares Way For Fast-Tracking Consent

WIND and solar-photovoltaic (PV) sites are the subject of a strategic environmental assessment study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

A separate exercise to the broader study into obstacles facing renewable energy provision, the study is designed to identify geographical areas in which large-scale wind and solar PV projects can be developed.

It was begun in late 2012 and commissioned by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

The locations should minimise significant negative effects on the environment while ensuring projects are commercially attractive and offer the maximum social and economic benefits.

Co-manager Lydia Cape-Ducluzeau says the study focuses on five provinces for solar PV — Northern Cape, Western Cape, North West, Free State and Eastern Cape. The study areas for wind are based on Wind Atlas of South Africa data: Northern Cape, Western Cape and Eastern Cape.

These renewable energy development zones (REDZ) will have no effect on projects already approved — unless their authorisation lapses — but projects in the identified zones will benefit from streamlined approvals. If projects are concentrated in these areas, Eskom will find it easier to plan its new transmission lines.

The updated IRP 2010 targeted 3,700MW of energy from renewables by 2017 and projects totalling 3,933MW already have the green light. The target by 2018 is 17,800MW.

In the first phase of its study, the CSIR team has identified preliminary areas, in positive and negative mapping exercises.

Positive mapping looks at where resources are, the existing grid and the need for socioeconomic development, in particular the areas that the government has identified for industrial use such as special economic zones, industrial development zones, ports and solar and wind corridors. These fit with areas where manufacturing will be concentrated — solar plants around Upington, and wind turbines around Atlantis.

Negative mapping excludes areas of high sensitivity.

"We ended up with 15 study areas for wind and eight for solar PV," Ms Cape-Ducluzeau says. "We approached the renewables industry for their views, and they helped us to further define our study areas.

"We discussed these with provincial authorities and we ended up with eight areas for both wind and solar PV, totalling about 80,000km². At this point we now have specialists doing scoping studies on those eight areas."

These REDZ are not exclusive zones — other land usages could be integrated with the renewables projects.

Final decisions will now be made on the focus areas, identifying boundaries for the REDZ and preparing protocols so that environmental permits can be obtained. Once these areas are defined and the various departments agree, they will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.

This process requires the amendments to the environmental regulations allowing for pre-assessments to which the CSIR’s study on transmission corridors has referred.

"What it means for developers in these areas is that they still have to go through certain processes, including public consultation, but it will be quicker to secure environmental consents," Ms Cape-Ducluzeau says.

"We have a steering committee on which a number of government departments are represented, and an expert reference group including NGOs and industry associations. Their participation has been very helpful."


Friday, July 25, 2014

Solar Energy Could Save Lansing Schools $1.4M

The Lansing Board Of Education (BOE) voted unanimously Monday to allow Superintendent Chris Pettograsso to send a letter of intent in support of a solar power company, Dynamic Energy, application for a NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research & Development Authority) grant to build a nearly two megawatt solar array that could provide 95% of the school district's electricity.  The project is estimated to save the district just under $45,000 in energy costs inits first year, and almost $1.4 million over the 20 year life of the contract.

"The concept is we would contract with this company to install a solar array, a big field of panels," said BOE President Glenn Swanson.  "Because we don't want to use up our playing fields and we don't have enough roof space it will likely be on an off-site location.  There is a lot of work to be done to figure that out and all the legal aspects of it."

TST BOCES Energy Management Coordinator Chris Santospirito and Jim Slavetskas, who acts as project manager for many of the Lansing school district's capital projects, attended Monday's meeting to answer questions about the 300 page proposal.  Dynamic Energy has proposed an 1,800 kilowatt system that would generate an estimated 2,226,952 kilowatt hours in the first year.  Santospirito said that the $44,539 savings in the first year accounts for 18.8% of what the district is currently paying.

"In the proposal it's 1.8 megawatts," Sanispirito said.  "We've asked them to rethink that because the schools use about two and a half million killowatt hours of electricity a year.  We're trying to get closer to that, but we don't want to get so close that you are paying for electricity that is generated that you're not using.  Then you don't get the credits back from NYSEG.  So you really don't want to go beyond 90% or 95% in the best interests of the economics of the district."

School Superintendent Chris Pettograsso told the board that Dynamic Energy has worked with institutions including Skidmore College on similar projects.  She said that Lansing is under no obligation until it signs a final agreement, leaving plenty of time to get questions answered, talk to other institutions and vist installations.  She said the only rush is to send the company a letter of intent to support their grant proposal before the July 17 application deadline.

"The resolution (the board was to vote on Monday) really just states that you are giving me the authority to send a letter of intent to allow Dynamic Energy to submit a proposal for a NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research & Development Authority) grant," explained Pettograsso.  "That's where we are in the process right now.  It's clear that we have to receive the grant, we have to agree to the final proposal that Dynamic Energy provides us, and we have some questions we need answered.  Tonight is just about saying I can work with this company to go ahead and apply for the grant."

"Our lawyers are suggesting we enter into an agreement that we can get out of at any time, because legally we can't obligate future boards to something," Swanson said.  "That is the legal sticky point.  There is a lot more study and work to be done."

Sanispirito said that no school systems in the state have been able to successfully implement a solar project of this scope.

"Let's be first," said BOE Vice President Christine Iacobucci.

"You will be first," Sanispirito replied.  "There is no other public school system in New York State  that has been able do a system like this because no other company has been willing to honor the non-appropriations clause in the law.  The key is to work with the solar company so that you're starting out paying for your energy at a lower cost than you're currently paying.  Not only will you be first in complying with the law, but you will be first in terms of having the largest system for a public school district."

Sanispirito explained that the school district will have no capital investment in the project because it will be purchasing the power from Dynamic Energy, which would build the 6,000 panel solar array on about 10 acres of land owned by Cayuga Operating Company (COC), which owns the Cayuga Power Plant in northwest Lansing.  If the NYS Public Service Commission approves a repowering plan in December a 2MW solar array will be part of the project.  She says COC owns over 400 acres, more than enough to accomodate both arrays, and noted that COC attorneys confirmed that if the plant is closed or sold the lease contract can insure that the school array land is not taken away.

"The solar company invests all of the money on the front end," Sanispirito said.  "They take care of it.  They insure it.  They inspect it.  They will also have to enter into an agreement with the Cayuga Operating Company to lease the land.  So there is no money invested by the district.  Instead of Lansing Central School District writing a check to NYSEG they'll write a check to the company that's going to finance this.  You'll buy the electricity generated by the solar panels instead of from the other companies."

The project is by no means assured.  Pettograsso said that providing a letter of intent is only the first of many steps.  Sanispirito added that he company must be able to supply electricity at less than the district is currently paying, and that state and federal grants and tax credits and the NYSERDA grant will decide whether the company can make a firm offer to provide energy for the Lansing schools.

"If they win it they're going to get paid about 24 cents per kilowatt hour to build the system," Sanispirito explained.  "That's their incentive.  In addition to that they offset the cost of this through a 30% federal tax credit, a New York State $5,000 credit, and if Congressman Reed is successful in bringing back the super bonus depreciation factor they'll be able to depreciate 50% of the system in the first year, and fully depreciate it in five.  That's how they get their money back."

"It is a really exciting opportunity for us," Pettograsso said.  "Although we came into in the last few months, Chris and Jim have been working on it for over two years.  Chris has been the one crossing the Ts and dotting the Is for us.  It is certainly an opportunity that we are excited for, but there are still a lot of 'ifs' in it."


Pros & Cons of Solar Energy in Massachusetts

Wes Morrison, of Clean Footprint is an expert in solar energy for the State of Massachusetts. Here's his list of the good, the bad and the future of solar energy in Massachusetts.

"Every state is unique when it comes to solar due to the different policies that are in place. We will highlight the major pros and cons of solar energy for the State of Massachusetts. If you are interested in solar for your business I can tell you without reading any further that the pros do far outweigh the cons. Over the years, I have spoken with business owners, NABCEP certified solar installers, engineers and environmentalists to get a holistic understanding of the Massachusetts solar market. I found it to be helpful and worth sharing with you so that you may make a better decision if you are currently considering solar or just interested in learning more. Going solar in Massachusetts can either make sense or make stress. Understanding the pros and cons will help you make the proper first step towards going solar."

Interested to know the Pros and Cons of Solar Energy in the State of Massachusetts?
Read the whole article here.

Huge Solar Panel Farm Could Be Built Near Harborough

A huge green energy scheme to build a solar panel park the size of 70 football pitches near Market Harborough has been pitched to Kettering Council.

The green energy plan would put about 125 acres of solar photovoltaic panels – equivalent to the size of 70 football pitches – on land 400 metres south-east of the edge of Harborough, between the A6 and the railway line.

Access to the scheme would be off a concrete farm path at the top of Kettering Road, Harborough, just before it joins the A6. Part of the site was previously occupied by a motocross track.

Thousands of south-facing solar panels would be mounted on metal frames up to three metres high, allowing for grazing to take place beneath them.

The solar photovoltaic park could generate at least 20MW of power, which would be enough to supply more than 6,000 homes, according to figures supplied by the Solar Trade Association.

The proposal, which falls mainly in Braybrooke, Northamptonshire, despite being close to Harborough, is in its very early “scoping report” stages, the Mail understands.

A scoping report sets out a description of a proposed project, with details of its environmental and other impacts, but is not yet an official planning application.

A spokesman for Kettering Council confirmed: “Ecus Ltd have submitted a screening and scoping opinion for the site. The local planning authority has responded, requesting that any future planning application is accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment covering matters as outlined in the issued scoping opinion, application reference KET/2014/0281.

“The details can be viewed on our website via the application reference number.

“We await a planning application, which will be dealt with and publicly consulted upon in the usual way.”

The site, which would be called Braybrooke Solar Photovoltaic Park, would have a capacity of about 20-25 MW, putting it in the medium-to-large category of British solar energy parks.

It would take about six months to build, including the laying of underground cables and the building of an electricity sub-station, which Ecus Ltd says would be “approximately the size of a large garage”.

It has been proposed by a small company called SLP Energy (Braybrooke) Ltd, based in Spixworth, near Norwich, via environmental consultants Ecus Ltd, which is based in Sheffield. Ecus has so far not responded to several requests by the Mail for a comment about the scheme.

The proposal was first drawn to the attention of the Mail by reader Karen Stanley who said: “It is potentially a very large development on high ground above the railway line and will be visible for miles.”

County and Harborough district councillor Sarah Hill said: “I’ve no problem with it, as long as there isn’t any detrimental visual impact on the town.

“Given the lie of the land, it looks like it will only be visible from some considerable distance.”

The Ecus report says the panels would be located on the side of a valley, and will be most easily viewed from roads to the south including Braybrooke Road and Harborough Road.

But the report says additional landscape planting would help to screen the site.

And it claims that the number of residents in the so-called Zone of Theoretical Visibilty (ZTV) is “not high”.

Darren Woodiwiss, co-founder of green group Transition Town Harborough, said that his group would, in general terms, “welcome any renewable and sustainable energy source”.

He said: “We all know we have an energy gap forming in the UK. We would be particularly interested in a scheme that created locally generated electricity for local residents.”

James Beard, a spokesman for the Solar Trade Association, said: “A scheme like this, if it’s well positioned and well screened, is an asset. It’s all about how well planned it is.”

Site selection is crucial issue

Solar parks are not automatically a good thing – you have to keep a close eye on the planning process.

That’s the view of the Council for the Protection of Rural England .

The CPRE says: “The increase of inappropriate wind farms and solar photovoltaic (PV) parks threatens to severely damage our matchless countryside.”

Paul Hayter, chairman of CPRE Northamptonshire, said that any new solar PV park should meet five important criteria.

Firstly, it should be on a site where the local topography limits its visual impact.

Secondly, it should not harm the views in sensitive or valued landscapes.

Thirdly, it should not harm views from settlements or public rights of way.

It should also not significantly affect the setting of settlements and finally, it should have a minimal impact on food production.

Northamptonshire already has a solar PV park, near Towcester, Mr Hayter said.

He said: “I would say that’s not an example of a good solar farm. It would probably not get planning permission now, because it’s more visible than anyone expected.”

But really it all depends on the site, claims Solar Trade Association press officer James Beard,

“If it’s planned badly, it will generate the ire of the public – and that’s entirely understandable,” said Mr Beard.

“But we encourage best practice in terms of site selection and site screening.”

Leonie Greene, head of external affairs for the Solar Trade Association, added: “Some of the earlier solar parks in Britain were done badly. But what we find is that when these parks are done well, they’re well received,”

Solar farm fact file

The total ‘footprint’ of the proposed solar park could be 172 acres. Of this, about 125 acres would be covered with the solar photovoltaic panels – equivalent to the size of 70 football pitches.

It would be on south-facing on land south-east of Harborough, between the A6 off Braybrooke and the railway line.

Panels would be mounted on metal frames up to three metres high.

It could generate at least 20MW of power, enough to supply more than 6,000 homes.

A recent YouGov poll revealed that 74 per cent of British people want more solar power. The same poll said 67 per cent thought solar power was a realistic way of combating climate change.