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Where Is the Money the Broome County Solar Farm Was Saving?

Vic FurmanVictor Furman
Upstate New York Landowner Shale Gas Activist

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Vic Furman questions what’s going with the Broome County Solar Farm that was supposed to save taxpayer so much money but still isn’t producing electricity.

I have been long involved in the rights of landowners and fighting for their ability to harvest the mineral rights from their farms and land holdings. I’m a landowner and a Field Director for the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York (JLCNY), this job involving gas well tours, visiting homes where drilling took place, investigating when possible all activities pro and con, causes and effects at drilling sites and educating the public at any available venue. I am also President of The Sapbush Road Group, a landowner group formed in 2008 to evaluate and negotiate gas leases.

One of the activities I have been following and investigating recently is the status of the Broome County Solar Farm project that was supposed to create big savings for taxpayers. So far, it’s been a boondoggle, not unlike SolarCity, with the whom the deal was made.

Broome County Solar Farm

Broome County Solar Farm

A little more then a month ago, on January 3, 2018, a member of a Conklin landowners group contacted me asking if I knew the status of the 20-acre, $4 million dollar deal Broome County entered into with SolarCity (another huge failure in NY) back in 2016. The caller informed me that the solar project had been completed and is not hooked up to the grid after sitting idle for a year and the news is now out, with all sorts of excuses and feeble sounding explanations.

Here’s the happy talk from October, 2016 when the project was announced:

$4 million solar farm will cover 25 percent of Broome County’s power demand. It will save more than $250,000 per year.

Broome County officials joined a SolarCity director during a groundbreaking ceremony for a solar farm Thursday in the Town of Conklin.

Construction on the solar farm will start next week, and it is scheduled to be completed and running by spring. The solar farm will be on a 20-acre property the county government purchased from the Broome County Industrial Development Agency for $100,000…

“Not only are we becoming more energy independent and producing power in an environmentally friendly way, we’re also saving taxpayers money in the long term by reducing our energy bills,” said Broome County Legislator Kelly Wildoner.

The county will partner with SolarCity, who will own the solar systems and is offering the county a power purchase agreement for no upfront cost.  SolarCity will install and maintain the systems, while Broome County will pay less for the solar energy produced than it would for utility power.

We’re excited to help the county switch to affordable solar energy and save it money at the same time, said Dan Leary, director of SolarCity.  It’s a winning combination for the county, taxpayers and the environment.

That was the story back on October 27, 2016 and notice the project was to be completed and running in the spring of 2017. It was not and here’s how WBNG reported the delay two weeks ago (emphasis added):

A large solar farm in the town of Conklin may become operational within the next several weeks – almost a year later than originally expected

Actual construction on the solar farm on the 20-acre site near the Broome Corporate Park south of Powers Road was completed around the end of last summer.

County executive Jason Garnar Thursday said it is going to be on-line “very soon.” He said that could happen “probably within the next month or two.”

Speaking on WNBF Radio’s Binghamton Now program, Garnar said the county has been working with NYSEG and SolarCity to finalize a rate agreement. Energy produced by the solar farm will be sold to NYSEG.

SolarCity partnered with the county to build the solar systems. The company owns the solar farm, which it is to maintain.

Garnar said when the project was announced, there was a promise it would “save the county a lot of money every year.” In reality, he said, the county may not actually see any net savings as a result of the solar farm.

County public works commissioner Leslie Boulton said a connection to NYSEG’s system still must be completed. She said the utility installed some poles to link the solar farm to the grid.

SolarCity project director Dan Leary could not be reached Thursday to discuss the rate agreement that’s been reached with NYSEG.

Solar City completed the Broome County Solar Farm at a cost to taxpayers of a reported $4 million dollars that will over 20 years, we’re told will return a payout of $5 million at the unproven projected savings of $250.000 per year. That’s a very bad deal one my business friends points out because the discounted value of that cash flow at 2.5% interest is only $3.9 million (meaning we lose $100,000) and as interest rates go up it only gets worse

More to the point, here it is February 16, 2018, and the Broome County Solar Farm is not online or producing savings for anyone. We’re now $250,000 in the hole! I have a bunch of questions:

  • Was the first year of unrealized $250,000 in projected savings part of the county budget this year or last?
  • Did Broome County have a written contract with Solar City and NYSEG? If so, why is this long ago completed 20-acre solar farm sitting idle in Conklin and what are the penalties to SolarCity for not performing?
  • Any solar farm contracts and/or approvals I’ve seen demand NYSEG approval prior to construction. Why wasn’t that the case here?
  • Why did it take my call into a local radio talk host  to prompt the host of the show, to question the County Executive Jason Garner? When I questioned County Executive Jason Garner a week later, during a segment called “Ask the County Executive” he seemed very unknowledgeable about the whole situation except to rightly say it was the previous administration’s  doing. But then again, how can a county executive not know of a deal made in 2015, when two years before he took office he was a sitting county legislator as the project was approved?
  • Who was the legal representative for the county in charge of protecting taxpayers, ensuring NYSEG was committed at the front end and SolarCity performed?

I took a ride out on my own time on Valentines day to look at this 20-acre boondoggle sitting there unconnected and took pictures. The first thing I noticed was besides it being fenced in with restricted access, the solar farm itself was surrounded by a mature forest. I had to ask myself how many acres of trees, and how many hundreds of oxygen producing air filtering trees and brush, were clear cut for this 13 month old eyesore? Google Earth tells us what it looked like in 2006 compared to now:

Broome County Solar Farm

The solar farm has been sitting idle for over a year, disconnected from the grid, the ground covered in ragweed now as the frost seems to have tossed the arrays to different levels of height, making it unsightly spectacle not unlike a parade of drunks stumbling down the street (somewhat apparent in the following shot from WBNG but every visible on-site). I was happy to see only factories and no homes, are being forced to look at this landscape, but can only imagine one of these things popping up in their neighborhood, and wondering what would this do to local land values if was a residential neighborhood.

Broome County Solar Farm

Broome County Solar Farm photo taken by WBNG‘s Bob Joseph – click for his report

I have asked many questions and maybe some of you have the answers, but one thing is for sure; there is a need for answers and an investigation into these maters. It also occurs to me this project may be nothing more then a 2015 advertisement used by Solar City to promote its not so clean energy business and if so….how did they get away with it and who is accountable? I ran into a NYSEG employee while at the site who referred me to the office for answers to these questions but he did tell me “there are no meters because it’s not hooked up.” What in the world is going here? This is Andrew Cuomo’s alternative to natural gas development? Give me a break!

Broome County Solar Farm

Another road to nowhere?

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22 thoughts on “Where Is the Money the Broome County Solar Farm Was Saving?

  1. Another “green” boondoggle or should I say “scam” to take in gullible, incompetent politicians and the taxpayers get taken to the cleaners. It would be interesting to investigate the deal Solar City got and the money trail leading to this deal.

  2. What a GREAT opportunity for the challenging gubernatorial candidate to latch in to…

    Cuomo said the JLCNY did a poor to lousy job ” educating ” the masses on natural gas development and the opportunities that derive.( ahem…isn’t he the Governor )

    Anyway…

    Every NYers shared commonality is that we ALL must maintain a household budget..

    Look no further than Germany where its Renewable platform has crushed that family budget & yielded a 42 cents per KWH to its rate payers

    Wake up NY

    The results of a smart energy plan can yield the tax revenues needed to provide /safe/abundant/environmentally safe energy — & @ the same time make ” Rural America Great Again ”

    The energy policy that this Governor is hamering down our throats Has worked no where domestically and by comparison no where in the world..

  3. They aren’t saving any money until the solar panels pay for themselves. It would take 16 years for $250,000 to pay for the $4,000,000 cost. That’s if they can actually generate that amount of savings. By then the panels would be close to their life cycle and would need disposed of. Also how many homes would this power ?? My guess would be not many.

  4. People who like fossil fuels: “It’s my business what I do with my property. Drilling and fracking operations aren’t THAT unsightly.”

    Also people who like fossil fuels: “OMG, nobody should have to see ugly solar farms.”

  5. at a google earth glance looks like they are short on environmental structures to maintain run off at the same levels as the previous forest … I wonder how the downslope water shed is doing … natural gas development is flat out denied permits because they might, might, have a failure of extensive BMPs. Double standards?

  6. Boondoggle isn’t the word for this thing. I have an array on my roof (twenty two 226 watt Sharp panels) and be advised that on cloudy days which we get here in the valley once in a while (pun intended), the out put of this thing is attenuated at least 80%, zero watts at night, and zero watts when snow covered. I know this because my Fronius inverter (a device that converts the array’s DC output into AC usable power) has an LCD display where you can visually watch the array output jump around like a Mexican jumping bean. Voters had better start to wake up and stop the installation of these land destroying intermittent and 13% efficient monsters. If I knew how cheap electricity would be today thanks to nat gas fired plants, I would have never had the array installed on my roof which leaked and I had to call the installer to come out and fix the leaks. Solar is a dead end. We need power 24/7 not intermittently like these things produce.

  7. Vic, The deal as reported in the Press early on, said that the County is responsible for maintenance including grass mowing. I can’t imagine what that would cost as you can’t mow under the panels with a riding mower. It must all be done by hand. I am in favor of Solar energy. but as a Conklin resident all I can see from this deal is another property off the tax rolls with no benefit to taxpayers.

    • Another good point. The maintenance of the area around the panels may actually be a significant negative financial input into the end results. I’ll bet no one involved in the deal even thought about such maintenance cost.

  8. Typical scam for Cuomo and company.
    Tree huggers actually think they can use solar scams while ignoring the strip mining and toxic waste issues.

    These people are emotional and not that intelligent so they need to virtue signal their greatness and be seen as “trendy” by advocating wind and solar.

  9. I would invite all to take a ride to the Conklin NY Industrial Park Solar site. It’s on the left side just as you pass the Dicks Distribution Center about 1/2 mile. The first time I went I just wanted a look and forgot my camera. It was a few days after the 4 inches of snow fell and the panels were still at least 2 inches under the cover of a sun reflective snow blanket. Like Frank Curran has post above that equals a zero output. Also they are very poorly located into a spot where they will get minimum sun

  10. All of the subsidies go not to American jobs, but to subsidize jobs at the companies in countries like China, Viet Nam, Thailand, and others South East Asia.

  11. I have worked on a few of these solar farm projects that also were joint efforts with the county. Generally the land is owned by the county and is leased to a private company that owns the solar panels and equipment. In return the private company sells the power to the county for a discounted rate. The only one that normally profits is the private company that’s selling the power.

  12. February 21, 2018

    Dear Mr. Furman:

    I am hereby acknowledging your request dated February 19, 2018 to inspect records.

    This office will make every effort to find the information you are seeking and provide it to you promptly. Some information is not releasable, and sometimes the information may not exist. In accordance with the Public Officers Law, we will advise you within the next five business days whether your request for information will be granted, denied, granted in part, or if we will need more time not to exceed 20 days to respond to your request. At that time, we will inform you as to whether the materials you have requested will be made available to you and when. Public Officers Law provides for the information to be made available, unless it is denied, within a reasonable time frame.

    For paper copies more than four pages, there is a charge of $.25 per page. Information is not always available electronically at this point. However, if information is available electronically on disk the charge is $2.00. We will notify you of any amount due upon determination that the records are available.

    If you have any questions in regard to this matter, please do not hesitate to contact this office.

    Sincerely,

    Robert J. O’Donnell

    DEPUTY RECORDS ACCESS OFFICER

    rjo/

    c. file

    Robert J. O’Donnell, Legislative Analyst

    Broome County Legislature

    Edwin L. Crawford County Office Building

    6th Floor, P.O. Box 1766

    Binghamton, NY 13902-1766

    Phone: (607) 778-2168

    Fax: (607) 778-8869

    ro’donnell@co.broome.ny.us

    From: Victor Furman [mailto:Vlfamf@aol.com]
    Sent: Monday, February 19, 2018 9:36 PM
    To: FOIL
    Cc: Vlfamf@aol.com
    Subject: FOIL Request to the Broome County

    February 19, 2018

    Dear Aaron Martin,

    Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law, Article 6 of the Public Officers Law, I request a copy of the following records from the Broome County: Any and all contracts related to the solar system built in the Conklin NY Industrial Park. Any and all coresponence or emails between Broome County and Solar City on the solar array built on Broome County Property in Conklin NY including 1, price 2, outside contracts 3. Contracts between Solar City,NYSEG, and Broome County 4. Any contract concerning this project with the town of Conklin NY. for year 2015 in PDF format.

    The preferred method for sending this is by Email to Vlfamf@aol.com

    As you know, the Freedom of Information Law requires that an agency respond to a request within five business days of a request. Here is a link to the law for your convenience: http://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/foil2.html.

    If any records or portions of records are withheld, please state the exemption on which you rely, the basis on which the exemption is invoked, and the name of the individual responsible for the decision.

    Thank you for your prompt consideration of my request. If you have any questions, or if I can be of any assistance, please e-mail me at Vlfamf@aol.com.

    Victor Furman

  13. Update on update lol
    Just got a callback from the legislation, there are over 700 emails on this project and they requested another 30 days back on March 5th. The said their IT team has to go through them and do retractions. I should be getting them sometime shortly after April 5th

  14. “In accordance with the Public Officers Law, we will advise you within the next five business days whether your request for information will be granted, denied, granted in part, or if we will need more time not to exceed 20 days to respond to your request. At that time, we will inform you as to whether the materials you have requested will be made available to you and when.”

    Looks like they have exceeded their own time frames for responding! How surprising!

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