BOCES aiming for solar-powered campus

JOHNSTOWN – The Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services is taking steps toward powering the campus with solar energy.

BOCES is working with a company that will seek millions of dollars in state and federal grant money to pay for the installation of solar panels, said BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel.

He said the project could begin as soon as next year, and it would include installing panels on campus roofing and in a field adjacent to the BOCES building.

BOCES is waiting for approval to have Dynamic Energy install panels to provide the primary source of power on days weather permits, Michel said.

Dynamic Energy would find investors to pay for the installation of panels and then seek grants. BOCES would pay Dynamic Energy for electricity produced.

“We have been exploring solar energy since long before I got here,” Michel said. “However, the state law recently changed, and because of the size of the solar panel we would need to power BOCES, it wasn’t permitted for NYSERDA [New York State Energy Research and Development Authority] subsidies.”

Michel said the state has since changed the law to allow that size to be supported by NYSERDA, allowing BOCES to explore the solar option further.

Michel said researching alternative power sources is nothing new for BOCES. It previously did a wind study, which determined there isn’t enough consistent wind in the area to generate power with wind turbines.

“The solar study looks like the ticket,” Michel said.

He said BOCES paid $2,000 to have the solar proposal looked at by SAVIN Engineers to make sure the plan is in BOCES’ best interest.

“I wanted to make sure that all the things they were presenting were legit and they had the fiscal backing and materials necessary to do the job properly,” Michel said.

“We got very positive reports back and we did sign a letter of intent with the company to apply to NYSERDA,”

Michel said. “The next step will be that NYSERDA will approve or disapprove it. If they approve, then we have to make the decision to move forward. But we are looking at a solar array that would be big enough to supply the entire building with over 100 percent of [the] electrical needs.”

Michel estimated the switch to solar would save BOCES approximately $10,000 or more a year. The plan would require a 20-year commitment.

He said when BOCES generates more power than it needs to fully run its campus, the surplus power would be placed back into the grid. National Grid then would credit BOCES.

He said the installation and equipment needed for solar power would not cost BOCES anything because grant money from NYSERDA and federal sources would pay for the project.

He said the district still would be hooked up to the power grid because the campus would need more power than solar panels generate during snowy months. During the summer, when the campus uses less electricity, the energy would be put back into the electrical grid.

Michel said BOCES would make money by putting spare power back into the grid.

“We have taken the next step, but after NYSERDA approves the project is when we will have to make the big plunge,” Michel said.