Jeanne Sager | Democrat
SUPERVISOR LINDA BABICZ reads from a presentation she prepared to convince town board members the project should be put back out to bidders. Listening in the background are Councilmen Howard Fuchs, left, and Tom Bose.
Compromise on Callicoon solar energy project
By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE A solar energy project will be put out to bidders by the Town of Callicoon.
It’s not the solar energy project proponents have said could save the town 100 percent of its yearly $8,000 energy costs with no money down.
It’s also not the solar project its detractors have said would create substantial costs for the town down the line, run the risk of upping the town’s insurance and voiding warranty on the new town barn.
Instead the proposal forged after three hours of back and forth among members of the town board and frequent outbursts from the packed crowd represents a compromise.
Proposed early in the discussion phase Monday night by Councilman Charlie Schadt, the project will supply solar energy at the town barn, but it will keep the solar panels off of the roof.
Instead, the town is looking for prices for a pole-mounted system which could be sited at the best possible spot for catching the sun’s rays.
It will avoid the possible warranty issues on the town barn roof, along with questions of engineering issues to enable the roof to support additional load.
It will also void the contention that the town barn roof does not face the proper direction for optimal solar energy production.
Perhaps most significantly after a fractious board debated in front of an even more fractious crowd, the decision was unanimous.
On a motion by Councilman Tom Bose, the entire board, including Supervisor Linda Babicz who has championed solar in Callicoon from the introduction of the project voted yes.
Now the hope is that prices will come down enough that the board can go forward.
How Did They Get There?
Babicz cleared up one of the biggest bones of contention regarding funding at the beginning of Monday’s meeting, reading a letter from Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther that states a $125,000 line item pledged to cover part of the town’s cost is indeed still on the table and very much available.
Another large chunk of the project is to be covered by rebates from the New York State Research and Energy Development Agency (NYSERDA).
Between Gunther’s allocation and the NYSERDA rebates, proponents had been convinced that both the town barn and town hall could be outfitted with solar panels at no cost to the town.
Bids opened last month proved that was not to be.
With one bidder already offering to drop his prices, Babicz initially pressed for rebidding the entire project.
Board members put up convincing arguments otherwise.
Among them was a letter from the applications and field support engineer at Evergreen Solar, the company which makes the panels one contractor intended to mount on the town hall roof.
Councilman Howard Fuchs acknowledged many people had pooh-poohed his concerns about the baseball field across the street from the town barn which frequently sends foul balls and pop-ups in the direction of the town hall (landing on the roof and taking out car windows).
Based on tests, Evergreen Solar’s engineer told Fuchs the panels could withstand hail but not baseballs.
“I definitely would not recommend to install a PV [photo voltaic] array in a roof that can be hit by baseballs,” he said.
Also brought to light were concerns voiced by Henry Illing, the engineer who designed the town barn, regarding a void of the town’s warranty on the barn roof if solar panels were added.
Meanwhile, Engineer John Calhoun, hired by the town for the solar project, put to rest some of the major concerns about maintenance of the panels, citing the New York climate as reason the panels will require little cleaning.
The Public Has its Say
With crowds reminiscent of last January’s heated meetings, the outer room at the town hall was packed for Monday’s session and folks made it clear they were there to talk solar.
Requests by the town board to limit public comment until after board members had their say were met with grumbles from the crowd including repeated calls of “Linda, let us speak,” throughout deliberations.
When allowed to speak, residents (and some non-residents) made impassioned pleas on both sides of the argument.
“It sounds like you guys have done a very, very thorough job of investigating why this wouldn’t work,” warned Callicoon Center resident Dennis Finley.
North Branch resident Victoria Lesser called for “this little town” to make an example.
“Let us have an opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the world,” she said. “If we don’t get support from the outside, we don’t have enough revenue inside our own pockets to continue living here.”
Town board members who had previously voted against rebidding the project were also warned what their statement might mean in the future.
“We’re the ones who voted you in,” said Ayla Maloney of Callicoon (who technically lives in the Town of Delaware). “Maybe we won’t do that next time.”
On the other side of the fence, Youngsville resident Paul Hubert asked people to examine the word “free.”
“Keep in mind the whole fiasco with the Sullivan West school,” Hubert said. “I don’t really feel that $8,000 is worth all this.”
Financial concerns weren’t the only issues raised from the audience: Kevin Graham of Youngsville and an unidentified resident both spoke out on the toxic process used to make solar panels, which Calhoun admitted takes two years of the panels actually working to negate on the environmental scale.
Youngsville resident Mike Vreeland accurately assessed the room with his assertion that there were two belief systems at work.
“One is the people who see themselves as stewards of the environment. I think the cost is secondary to what they do to help the earth,” he said. “The other group is the ‘if it’s going to cost us anything, we’re not going to do it, we’re here to protect the taxpayer’ group.”
Vreeland called for a compromise, stewards of both the fiscal future of the town and the physical future.
In the end, compromise was what they got.