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Sumitt Hill Authority discusses possible sites for solar energy project

Published November 19. 2009 05:00PM

Location, location, location could be the theme of Tuesday night's Summit Hill Water Authority's meeting as the officials discussed the status of their solar energy project with consultants from Writing Works.

"It would be good to first check (the land that) the water authority owns instead of having to acquire it," said the authority's Solicitor Joseph Velitsky.

He informed the board he was trying to reach officials at LC&N to discuss that status of a potential site for the project that the authority was interested in using at the western end of the borough across from St. Joseph's Church.

Authority Engineer Mike Tirpak of Carbon Engineering asked consultants Matt Cordes and Betsy Maholick if the panels could be installed on the property at the White Bear location.

Maholick said she wasn't sure about the site but pointed out one of the potential spots that was examined and discarded was the baseball field next to the borough garage.

"That site was too close to the ridge south of it to be useful for the project," she said.

Cordes told them if cost was an issue, then the site acquisition could be part of the grants they would be applying for to underwrite the project.

Velitsky asked him what cost this project would run the municipality. He said he was aware the Nesquehoning project had a significant price tag attached to it.

"What is the total cost of the project," Velitsky asked.

Cordes told him the cost would be $2.25 million dollars, but added that the combination of federal and state grants would cover 60 percent of the cost. He also pointed out that while the other 40 percent would normally be financed, there were ways to cover that cost with leveraging the renewable energy credits and subsidies pledged by the county and area representatives' offices. This commitment was the result of a meeting by authority officials, county commissioners and representatives from Congressman Paul Kanjorski and Speaker Keith McCall's offices.

Tirpak pointed out the Nesquehoning project, which is being backed by a private group of investors applied for and received only a $5.5 million grant for the reportedly $78 million dollar project.

"That grant percentage was miniscule compared to the cost of the project," he said.

Cordes said originally they were planning to apply for this grant from the Pennsylvania Sunshine Program, which had $100 million to allocate in the form of rebates to its recipients. While non-profit and small businesses were already at the third tier making the return on investment a little longer, residential applicants were reportedly still at the attractive tier one level that guarantees that greatest rebate on energy produced by a solar panel installation.

Tirpak said he understood the private group was not too concerned about the small amount of the grant as they were looking at making back their investment in a large part due to tax credits.

"While they can use tax credits, that option isn't available to the municipality."

Authority board member Patrick Kane said he believed there was a deadline on applying for the grants the authority would need which Cordes also confirmed.

Maholick said that while the grants they are currently discussing do have deadlines, there are always grants available for which the authority can apply to cover the costs of the project.

Velitsky observed there is still much groundwork to be done before the project can be completed.

Cordes agreed saying that you need the plan to get the funding for the project but you also need the funding to produce the plan.

Another concern was the ability of the borough to participate in the project. Tirpak pointed out the borough may not be able to significantly assist in the project due to their own commitments. Authority Chairman Chet Michalik said he believed the authority would be taking the lead in the project anyway.

Maholick said determining whether or not the borough was going to participate could have a significant effect on the size of the system that would be installed and its location, but Michalik said he believed the borough would still want to be involved.

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