Dan Hust | Democrat
JJ PAVESE STANDS atop the field he hopes to turn into a solar panel array near Monticello. The proximity of power lines, the clear view of the southern sky, and the lack of nearby neighbors makes it an ideal location.
His solar dreams
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO JJ Pavese knows he’s dreaming big. Very big.
But if his solar farm idea actually comes to fruition on a Sackett Lake hilltop, “I’d feel like a million bucks.”
Of course, he quickly adds with a laugh, “I’d owe 20 million bucks!”
But the 24-year-old Monticello native has a knack for positively and sincerely portraying his dream as an entirely realizable reality and his enthusiasm has proven infectious.
Already, Pavese has convinced his uncles, Paul and Tony Poli, to let him use their 50-acre, windswept field along South Maplewood Road, and his family has promised to kick in at least 10 percent of the estimated $18-$20 million development costs to construct a 13,000-panel solar energy farm.
After several discussions and a pitch to the town board last week, Pavese has also garnered support from Town of Thompson officials, who agree with him that it could be a pilot project for an industry entirely new to New York.
“We’re real enthusiastic about it,” confirmed town consultant George Cooke. “We’d love to see it happen, and we’ll do everything we can to assist.”
“This is our future,” added Supervisor Tony Cellini.
That’s why Pavese and his Upstate Planning, LLC is on the planning board’s agenda next week, along with a zoning change in front of the town board.
But Pavese’s going to need a lot more than town approvals to turn a farm and sports field into a profitable solar array hooked into the electrical grid.
An assistant draftsman for Monticello engineer Glenn Smith, he’s taken a range of solar energy courses and feels confident in designing and installing such systems. He also has developed relationships with various companies involved in the technology.
But Pavese has never attempted a project this large before, and he knows that even with government grants and other funds, the majority of that $18-$20 million will come from private capital.
And he’s not at all deterred.
“We already own the land,” he explains, pointing out nearby powerlines and a view that extends 40 miles in several directions.
Plus, the solar panels, standing about 4-5 feet, will be closely spaced and angled along a south-facing hillside, catching the estimated 4-4.5 hours of sunlight the area averages daily (though direct sunlight is not necessary to generate electricity).
No trees will be cut down, leaving about 31 open acres, but a sports field used by the Monticello Area Football and Cheerleading Organization will have to be relocated.
Pavese estimates about 70 jobs would be created during a two-year construction period, with an additional 12-24 permanent jobs when the farm is operational everything from electricians to office workers, he said.
Some of these “green-collar” jobs would be relatively high-income, he added.
“We’ll try to use as much local workers as we possibly can,” he explained. “I want young people like me to come back here.”
He sees the project sparking a local industry that so far has stayed out west, and one far more viable than wind which he first investigated for the hilltop, then found the constant breeze wasn’t strong enough.
So this self-described “Imagineer” took pen to paper and created a business plan modeled on selling an estimated 3-4 megawatts of solar energy enough to power 700-800 homes on the open market for about 10-13 cents per kilowatt hour.
Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development President Tim McCausland has spoken informally with Pavese, but he sees great promise.
“Mr. Pavese's project represents the second solar farm project to make a presentation here in Sullivan County,” he said yesterday. “There is a great amount of interest now in this type of large-scale solar energy application, primarily due to government-sponsored financial incentives flowing from federal stimulus monies. These two projects offer evidence that stimulus monies can effectively encourage the private sector to act because, without this type of impetus, the costs become prohibitive.
“And if several multi-megawatt facilities can be built at $10 million to $20 million and up the economic benefit to the county would be enormous,” he added.
“I’m glad there’s interest in it,” said Pavese. “People want to see something like this happen.”
Still, he knows there’s a lot of work to do and he relishes it.
“Why put up a small system with 40 panels when you can put up a large one with 13,000 panels?” he said. “There’s no sense in dreaming small.”
Pavese welcomes inquiries and investment by calling 807-1687 or e-mailing upstate_planning@live .com. A website is coming soon, he said.