Any politician worth his salt will tell you green technology is the way of the future.
Clay Town Supervisor Damian Ulatowski is no exception.
“When I took the supervisor’s seat, I made it very clear to the board that green technology was very important to me, and I was going to do everything I could to embrace that for the town in my capacity as supervisor,” Ulatowski said.
Ulatowski said the town was able to make town hall and other municipal buildings more energy efficient by way of a $500,000 energy grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Those improvements have resulted in an 18 percent reduction in energy usage and a 37 percent cut in the cost of heating and lighting at the garage.
“That’s a part of lowering the utility bill that affects the taxpayers,” Ulatowski said. “That’s the next path for the town.”
That’s why the town is embarking on the path toward solar energy. With the help of Warner Energy LLC, a Clay-based business that designs and develops solar project for clients nationwide, Clay officials are planning the installation of a 99kW solar array at Town Hall and the highway garage to reduce and stabilize energy costs.
“I believe we cannot sustain ourselves on being dependent on fossil fuels forever,” Ulatowski said. “There’s this big ball of light in the sky, and it’s been shining for billions of years. We have the technology to understand how that energy can be harnessed and how we can process that energy for little or no costs.”
For a long time, Ulatowski said he’d been told that solar energy wouldn’t work in an environment like Central New York, which has the second-most cloud cover in the country (second only to the Seattle metro area).
“I’ve been told that it wouldn’t work in a northern environment, especially in the Syracuse area. There’s just not enough sunlight to make solar energy work effectively,” he said. “So I sought out companies that had the technology for solar panels that could function not just with the sun but with light of any kind, and Warner Energy is just such a company. They’ve created technology that’s 85 percent effective with any kind of light.”
Ulatowski said he approached Warner Energy a few years ago to ask for their help in making the town more energy-efficient.
“The town of Clay is interested in pursuing solar energy for the dual purpose of reducing and stabilizing energy costs and to follow through on the town’s longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship and energy conservation,” said Zach Drescher of Warner Energy. “In addition, this upcoming installation is one more positive step showcasing the evolution of the Town of Clay, and their never-ending commitment to being an innovative and forward thinking leader in our community.”
Headquartered in Liverpool, Warner Energy designs and develops solar projects for clients throughout the US and distributes solar modules and related components to solar installers. Warner is a subsidiary of the Drescher Company, which also owns the Cicero-based Paul deLima Coffee Company. The Warner Energy campus on Morgan Road includes a technology development laboratory, solar module manufacturing lines, meteorological monitoring station, solar module testing and demonstration arrays, with a focus center for research, development and manufacturing of new renewable technologies.
The system that will eventually be installed in Clay is comprised of 396 high-efficiency solar panels, each with a capacity of 250 watts. The solar panels and related electrical equipment convert sunlight into power which can be used to run lighting and electrical equipment within the town’s facilities.
The use of such technology is cleaner and more efficient than fossil fuels, saving not only money, but the environment, as well. Dresher said it is estimated that every year, for at least the next 25 years, the clean, renewable energy generated by the system installed at Town Hall will offset the emission of roughly 45 metric tons of greenhouse gases. This is equivalent to more than 5,000 gallons of gasoline, 104 barrels of oil, the electricity usage of over five homes, or the carbon sequestered by planting 9.7 acres of pine forest.
There’s also the tax savings, which is nothing to sneeze at.
“We’re looking at about $1,200 to $1,800 a month in energy savings,” Ulatowski said.
The project will be funded through a NYSERDA grant and a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), which, according to Drescher, offers a financing solution that eliminates up-front costs to town taxpayers. The PPA is still being negotiated, so the details are not yet available to the public.
That’s not all. The system can actually save town residents money on their own energy costs, not just the town’s.
“If the solar array is generating energy in excess of the town’s needs, it can be fed back to the grid and used by other utility customers, rolling back the electric meter in the process,” Drescher said.
The system is equipped with a monitoring system that will be kept in the lobby at Town Hall that will allow the town and Warner Energy to ensure that the array is providing the energy it’s supposed to.
“The state-of-the-art monitoring system that will be installed in the lobby of both buildings will allow detailed, real-time data collection and analysis,” Drescher said. “Data from the system is used to verify and guarantee the array produces at its rated power and predicted energy totals. The monitoring system itself can serve as a teaching and demonstration tool, showing the impact of the array from any location with an internet connection.”
Ulatowski said he hopes other towns will follow the model being set by the town of Clay.
“Green technology is the next industrial revolution,” he said. “I hope other towns will see what this little town in Upstate New York that no one has ever heard of is doing and say, ‘Hey, we can do that, too.’”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.