Solar energy projects in Callicoon on hold
By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE Plans to add solar energy systems to the Callicoon town hall and town barn are on hold indefinitely.
The town board voted unanimously Wednesday evening to reject bids opened at a meeting the week before, followed by a 3-1 vote not to rebid the project.
Dissenting was Supervisor Linda Babicz, the board member who kick started the project earlier this fall, bringing in a promise from Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther to lobby for $125,000 in funding from the state.
Babicz also consulted with local proponents of renewable energy, coming up with a figure of $210,000 in expected rebates from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to help fund the project.
Two bids came in one of which was thrown out by the board for its failure to meet bid specifications. The second would cost the town at least $75,000 even with the NYSERDA rebates and an allocation from Gunther.
That allocation concerned board members who voted not to rebid on Wednesday.
A letter from her office in September, stated her willingness to help the town apply for funding from the state.
It didn’t guarantee funding, said Councilman Tom Bose.
Reached after the meeting, Bose said he’s been concerned by residents’ frequent assertions that this project won’t cost the town a dime.
“Aileen Gunther still says she’ll request the funds,” Bose said. “Until we have the money in our coffers, we don’t have that money. We don’t have a guarantee, and with the state of our economy and our state budget, no one can make that guarantee.”
Contacted at her office, Gunther said the money is guaranteed.
“This capital money is available to the 98th District,” she said. “It’s money that is available to them.”
The lack of guarantees garnered a no vote from Councilman Howard Fuchs.
“It really came down to once we had these bid proposals before we saw them, there were a lot of unknowns,” Fuchs said. “I felt very uncomfortable putting the town at monetary risk.”
“We said all along we weren’t going to do this if it was going to cost the town money,” Bose continued. “It’s already cost the town $2,000 for an engineer.”
The lower bid, the one thrown out for not meeting specifications, offered eight options the lowest would cost the town $55,100 after NYSERDA’s rebates.
Even if the Gunther allocation came in, Bose said that number is still a low-ball estimate. The town would have to kick in for engineering fees and a possible rehab of the town hall building. Plus he’s seen an estimate from NYSEG to move powerlines that currently run in front of the town hall and would cause a shading problem for solar panels for at least $10,000.
“People are struggling, and we don’t have the money in the budget,” added Councilman Dave Kuebler. “I feel that this is not the right time.
“I’m not against solar, I made the motion that we explore it again in the future, but I think it’s going to be more efficient and less money in the future.”
Fuchs, also reached after the meeting, said he too is a proponent of solar energy. With promises from the president elect to put emphasis on renewable energy, Fuchs said he can see this as an option for the town somewhere down the road.
“This was purely a monetary decision,” Fuchs noted. “That’s what we’re there for, to protect the town’s money.”
Babicz did not return calls for comment.