Upstate New York Landowner Shale Gas Activist
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.
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:
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.
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!