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Town of Lewiston hears about community solar benefits

Fri, Aug 28th 2020 11:55 am

Ampion Renewable Energy rep visits; board approves Oak Run PIPs, hears on water lines

By Terry Duffy

Editor-in-Chief

As its local law extending a moratorium on utility scale energy system installations continues, the Lewiston Town Board learned more about the concept of community solar at Monday’s regular meeting.

There, Brian Busby, community partnerships representative from Ampion Renewable Energy of Boston, discussed the benefits of community solar for municipalities, as well as residents of the town. Currently, Ampion manages the 29-acre utility scale solar farm facility at 2463 Moore Road, owned by Donald and Janice Laurie. It acquired a lease to manage the solar facility from OYA Solar of Toronto, which constructed it last year.

Busby said, “That solar farm is actually part of a state-run program called ‘community distributed generation.’ What it is designed to do is incentivize solar developers to build large solar farms and then offer some of the benefits of those solar farms to members of the community, (be they) residents, small businesses, nonprofits, municipalities.

“People can subscribe to a solar farm and receive a credit on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced.”

Buzby told the board the Moore Road site produces enough electricity to power about 1,000 households. While much of that power does go to the grid, he said the town could actually benefit from its generation, too.

Of those 1,000 households of power, “That’s a conservative number (on power generation),” he said. “So folks in Lewiston (could) actually be using the power from that solar farm.”

Outlining the Ampion proposal, Buzby said the Town of Lewiston – and its residents – could “participate in the program that would allow you to save money on electricity costs.

“What we’ve done with some other communities (who have signed on to this venture) is Ampion would donate $100 to a special town fund (of its own choice) … for each resident who joins the program,” he said.

Discussing how the town’s arrangement could work, Buzby said that, under that scenario, Ampion would review the town’s individual accounts (i.e. departments such as water, sewer or highway) and usage needs, etc., to determine eligibility and the ultimate benefit credit from the power generated at Moore Road.

“(That power) is sent to the electric grid, where it is tracked and metered and (would be) translated into a monetary credit (under a new billing arrangement created for the town with Ampion),” Buzby said. “That monetary credit appears as a new line item on the town utility account’s electrical bills, in lieu of costs. So it reduces the amount owed to the utility, and then Ampion bills you in arrears for those credits, but at 90 cents on the dollar always.

“So, (as) an example … you received $500 worth of credits, a brand-new line item, right on the electric bill, minus $500. In one month in arrears, we bill you for those credits at 90 cents on the dollar. So your bill from us would be $450. It works exactly the same way for the municipality as it would for any residents, small business or nonprofit.”

Currently, the town participates in a retail energy supply services arrangement with Niagara County that would remain separate under the Ampion plan. Buzby said any partnership by the town with Ampion would only focus on the delivery costs.

“This program is totally separate from a retail energy supply company. Our program wouldn’t touch that at all, because you guys are what is called dual-billed. You get your supply bill and you get your delivery bill; our program would be just for the delivery bill,” he said.

Of the Ampion proposal for Lewiston, Busby continued, “We’re hoping to be able to work with the town and work with Niagara County. Again, if the town is dual-billed we wouldn’t be doing anything with the supply bill that you are already on. This would be to offset the National Grid charges with utility bill credits. So, the bill credits you get first, they hit the National Grid invoice in real costs, and then we bill the town for those credits at 90 cents on the dollar.

“So I like to say there’s no liability. The credits appear, they reduce the costs, we bill on those credits at the discounted rate. And it’s always 90 cents on the dollar.”

“The agreement that subscribers actually sign is to purchase the credits at 90 cents on the dollar,” he said. He noted the program is open to municipalities as well as residents.

“So, it’s a 10% savings on the delivery of our electric bill?” Councilman Al Bax asked.

“Correct,” Buzby replied. He said that, for town accounts that use less than 25 KW at peak demand on one type of contract, it might be different. “It’s 10% across the board; it just depends on how they’re bucketed on our end. And we might only be able to serve those accounts that are less than the 25KW to start.”

He noted higher electrical users such as the town’s water treatment plant would likely fall under a different scenario.

Buzby said that, for individual residents, the Ampion plan could be even more attractive.

For homeowners, the 10% savings “would be on the whole bill,” Buzby said, “as long as their supply (is) consolidated on the whole bill. You would be hard-pressed to find a homeowner that’s dual-billed, because it’s usually larger entities (such as municipalities) that are dual-billed.

“For homeowners, it’d be 10% on the whole bill. … They can sign up now, it’s available. It’s a 90-day trial; if the homeowner doesn’t like it, they can get rid of it.”

“It works the same way – a $100 credit on the National Grid bill; reducing the bill by $100; we bill them at approximately one month in arrears at 90 cents on the dollar,” Buzby said.

Supervisor Steve Broderick said the town is continuing to review the Ampion proposal and assemble town usage accounts for the company’s review. He indicated the board would take further action at its September meetings.

For more information on Ampion Renewable Energy, visit www.ampion.net.

In other news from Monday’s session:

•The Town Board held a public hearing for final plat approval of phases 4 and 5 in the Oak Run subdivision and received no comments. The board went on to later approve various PIP requests covering sanitary sewers, storm sewers, water lines and pavement and curbs associated with the project, as well as storm water ponds associated with lots 23 and 24 in the subdivision.

•Engineer Robert Lannon said work is continuing on the town’s extensive waterline replacement project.

“If anyone has driven down Creek, Pletcher, Lower River Road, Mayflower, Sweethome … the water line project is fast and furious,” he said. Lannon indicated the Creek Road phase would be done by Sept. 1 (minus full restoration work), and crews would be moving to Pletcher Road.

“The plan is to have each area that they do, within 30 days followed by a restoration. … We’ll go area by area. We went down Creek, we’ll continue west on Pletcher. Once they hit Lower River, that crew will go north and they’ll have a crew going south on Lower River from Pletcher,” he said. “They hope to have all of the main line (work) in on Lower River by Nov. 1. That is the plan; they’ve been making some pretty good progress; some areas they get 450 feet (of water line) a day in, some areas on Lower River … with existing infrastructure, they get 200 feet a day. It’s a mix … we expected that.”

Lannon said water line installations would halt for the winter after Nov. 1 and resume once spring hits. He said actual hookups to residences would be in the last phases of the project.

•Wrapping up, Lannon said land clearing is continuing on the Essex Homes subdivision on Bronson and Upper Mountain roads above the hill, with a number of administrative items still to be done by project contractors Savarino Construction. Included are survey line issues, property line easements, water line service issues, and drainage easements of various properties.

Lannon said Essex developers are hoping to get started soon with man hole/sewer construction, but that various infrastructure-related delays continue.

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