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GCEDC accepts application for incentives for new Plug Power facility

The Genesee County Economic Development Center has accepted an initial application for incentives from Plug Power Inc. for its proposed $232.7 million green energy technology facility at the Western New York Science & Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park (STAMP).

The project was announced on Feb. 25 and is expected to create nearly 70 jobs at a starting salary of roughly $70,000. In addition, Plug Power will invest $55 million for the construction of an electric substation in partnership with the New York Power Authority and National Grid to support future expansion and growth opportunities at STAMP.

Under the terms of a 20-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement, Plug Power would pay roughly $2.3 million annually to support local municipalities and infrastructure, including Genesee County, the town of Alabama and the Oakfield-Alabama Central School District.

Steve Hyde
Steve Hyde

“Plug Power’s vision at STAMP includes over $100 million of investments into our municipal partners and site infrastructure. These investments further enhance the strengths of our 1,250-acre mega site,” GCEDC President and CEO Steve Hyde said in a statement. “At STAMP, projects can access low-cost power that is 100 percent renewable and reliable, at a site that is located, zoned and built for projects to succeed within their timelines.”

For every $1 of public benefit requested, more than $4.30 of planned investment and spending is estimated for the project, totaling roughly $500 million over two decades. The GCEDC board approved a purchase and sale agreement with Plug Power covering nearly 30 acres at STAMP for the proposed project.

Additionally, GCEDC approved $906,000 in incentives to support LandPro Equipment LLC’s planned $9.2 million project to acquire and develop a 14-acre parcel to build a 50,000-square-foot facility for a full-service regional John Deere facility. The project is expected to create five new jobs and retain roughly 60 jobs.

The GCEDC board also accepted an initial application from Forefront Power LLC for a proposed $9.7 million community solar project. The project would generate 5 MW of power and is projected to generate roughly $519,000 in new revenue to Genesee County, the town of Elba and the Elba Central School District over a 15-year agreement.

The board also accepted applications from Solar Liberty for two community solar projects with a capital investment of roughly $7.7 million. The projects will generate 4 MW and 5 MW of power and are projected to generate $856,000 in new revenue to Genesee County, the town of Pembroke and Akron Central School District over a 15-year agreement.

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Five solar projects in Genesee County slated for public hearings

Genesee County officials have agreed to hold public hearings soon on a national solar power company’s proposal to locate five solar arrays in the towns of Batavia and Pembroke. 

Borrego Solar is looking for $2.5 million in tax abatements on the properties over 15 years, but would pay more than $2 million in lieu of taxes to the towns and three school districts in which the projects fall. 

Borrego is based in California and has a large regional office for the Northeast in Lowell, Mass. It has developed solar projects around the country, with one of the closest in Seneca, Ontario County, where an array supplies power for Ithaca College 40 miles away. 

These five proposed projects would supply power for subscribers. 

Jim Krencik with the Genesee County Economic Development Center said dates for the public hearings would most likely be set next week and take place later this month. The economic development center’s board agreed to move ahead at its meeting Thursday night. 

Three solar arrays would be located in the town of Batavia at:

  • 5230 Batavia-Stafford Townline Road in Elba Central School District.
  • 3104 West Main Street Road in Pembroke Central School District
  • 3232 West Main Street Road in Pembroke’s district

Two others would be located in the town of Pembroke and Akron Central School District:

  • 241 Knapp Road East 
  • 241 Knapp Road West

The quintet of solar arrays would generate 26 megawatts of energy and $2.092 million in revenue for the towns and school districts in which they lay. The economic development center also negotiated a $25,000 contribution from the projects that will be dedicated to STEM education and related economic development, Krencik said. 

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Energy saving projects at RIT and UR include doctoral student’s bright idea

Two green projects at local universities that won $1 million state grants this week didn’t come out of the blue.

Lourdes Gutierrez Aliaga, a doctoral student at RIT, conceived the energy saving project that won a $1 million grant from the state. (Photo by Sue Weisler/RIT)
Lourdes Gutierrez Aliaga, a doctoral student at RIT, conceived the energy saving project that won a $1 million grant from the state. (Photo by Sue Weisler/RIT)

Rochester Institute of Technology’s plan to automate ventilation in its Golisano Institute for Sustainability depending on classroom occupancy, for example, had already won grants and awards for the doctoral candidate from Peru who first started working on the concept in 2015.

And University of Rochester’s near-net-zero building, accompanied by a 335-kilowatts solar array, has been under consideration for two years, though the solar part was added a year ago. Groundbreaking for the Center for Energy and the Environment, or CEE, is scheduled for next year, but before it’s completed, solar panels will be mounted on the roof of the Goergen Athletic Center to offset the new building’s needs. The construction would also include energy storage systems to hold power to use during Rochester’s cloudy days.

Suffolk County Community College also won a $1 million grant for a proposed net-zero building at the Long Island school. That building will be the first net-zero structure on a State University of New York campus and the first in Suffolk County, a college official said Monday at the award announcement.

The grants come from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s Energy to Lead Competition, in which schools were invited to come up with energy-saving projects coupled with educational and community engagement components.  The three winning schools were among 30 that participated in the competition, and more than 100 campuses in the state that participate in the state’s REV Campus Challenge program.

The competition and program are aligned with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s goals for the state to reduce greenhouse gases by 40 percent and move toward 50 percent of its energy usage coming from renewable energy resources by 2030.

Without the grants, the projects probably would have gone forward anyway, but a NYSERDA official said the grant competition changed them somewhat.

“We were able to leverage their construction to make them more efficient and cleaner,” said Patrick O’Shei, director of market development at NYSERDA. Key for winning a grant also was the project’s ability to be replicated elsewhere and be used as a vehicle for teaching.

Accepting the award on behalf of the University of Rochester, engineering Dean Wendi Heinzelman said, “We’re thrilled by the (recognition) for projects that really are going to transform energy usage in New York State.”

RIT’s project, for instance, will be tied into engineering courses at RIT and courses on facilities management and ventilation systems at Monroe Community College.  RIT President David Munson said once the program is fully functional, it will be shared with MCC’s downtown campus, other buildings at RIT and other schools. Meanwhile, any savings it generates at RIT will be shared with a grant program for additional energy conservation projects, he said.

Lourdes Marozas-Aliaga, a sustainability student with a civil engineering background from Lima, Peru, initiated the winning RIT project as part of a sustainability project answering a problem facing the Golisano Institute for Sustainability building. Though the structure was built according to green building standards, its energy bill was higher than expected. And yet, Marozas-Aliaga said, rooms were sometimes too cold for the people using them.

Marozas-Aliaga said she believed she could improve the thermal comfort of the buildings’ occupants by making the ventilation system operate according to how many people were in the rooms rather than the rooms’ capacity. The project integrates the building’s metering system for ventilation with data on what classes are assigned to the rooms and how many students are enrolled in them.

“The savings would be possible immediately,” Marozas-Aliaga said. Along the way, she worked with several colleagues at RIT and won a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to prove her concept, gained funding from RIT’s Simon Center for Innovation and Enterpreneurship, and won a building design competition in the Pacific Northwest.

Marozas-Aliaga said she became familiar with the Energy to Lead competition in 2016, but wasn’t ready to join until the following year, once she identified a faculty member who could present the project to the state, which was one of the requirements of the competition. The MCC piece of the proposal was added to meet that competition’s guidelines.

At the University of Rochester, the Center for Energy and Environment project is a $19 million, four-story building to be constructed next to the UR’s Hutchinson Hall. Besides the CEE, the building will house earth and environmental sciences, biology and chemistry departments.

People entering the River Campus from Elmwood Avenue will see it as the first building on the right. Heinzelman said the athletic center was chosen for the solar array because of its flat roof, which is large enough to accommodate enough panels to offset power needed by the CEE building. Additional panels may be added later, she said, to provide power for other buildings.

Heinzelman said UR expects a return on investment for the solar power and energy storage systems in nine years. The project will create an opportunity for masters of science students to do capstone projects in energy usage and storage, she said. New curriculum inspired by the building’s power conservation systems will be developed by UR’s Warner School of Education and shared in displays at the Rochester Museum & Science Center.

There’s also an economic development aspect of all the projects, Heinzelman noted. UR’s project will work with GreenSpark Solar and ENEROC, a local firm, on installation and operation of the solar power system.

The director of the CEE, Carmala Garzione, was unavailable for comment this week as she was away on a field assignment. However, in a recent question-and-answer interview she provided to UR, she said. “An important part of (the project) is supporting the development of a local workforce that has the technical skills to install and maintain these types of solar-energy storage systems in other locations throughout Rochester and the surrounding region.”

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Rochester entrepreneur’s idea brings power relief to Puerto Rico

David Rodriguez wasn’t looking for a business opportunity when he went to check on his property and visit relatives in Puerto Rico last December following Hurricane Maria.

David Rodriguez (Photo courtesy of RIT)
David Rodriguez (Photo courtesy of RIT)

Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico who grew up in Buffalo, is president and CEO of Council Rock Enterprises, a Rochester company that designs solar-powered remote operating systems for utility fixtures such as oil wells or substations. With his electrical engineering experience, though, he couldn’t help coming up with a solution for what he saw as a dangerous situation during his visit to the devastated island.

An octogenarian uncle of Rodriguez’s was using a gas-powered generator inside his house to keep lights and his refrigerator on during the lengthy power outages after the mega-storm. Running a gas-powered generator indoors can cause deadly carbon-monoxide poisoning, but the older man felt he had no choice. Leaving the device in his driveway might have allowed it to be stolen, and the only other available location for the generator outside was difficult for him to reach.

“The dangers of carbon monoxide are enormous,” said Bill Platt, a disaster specialist for the American Red Cross who works with the Greater Rochester Area Chapter. Virtually every disaster he works on, he said, someone is sickened or dies because of carbon monoxide poisoning related to a generator that runs on fossil fuels.

While still in Puerto Rico, Rodriguez called a staffer at Council Rock and asked for a price list of the elements needed to build a generator large enough to operate the basics in an emergency situation. “The wheels started turning,” Rodriguez said.  He promised to stop his quest if he ran into roadblocks, but none have arisen yet.

“Instead of running into red flags, I got tremendous support,” he said.

The solar generators already available weren’t satisfactory — some produce only enough electricity to run a radio or charge phones — and Rodriguez felt he could build something better and easier to operate.

He and his staff first did market research by buying every solar-powered generator on the market and testing them. Some are easy to wreck by connecting them incorrectly or drawing too much power, he said. The new company, named inverSOL, wanted to see what happened if they made the typical mistakes on purpose.


“We were successful in destroying all of them,” Rodriguez said.  He wanted something safer. “My direction to the inverSOL team is that no matter what, we must think about our kids or grandparents using the generators, and no one can ever be harmed.”

During the research phase, Rodriguez said he realized building the generators in Upstate New York wasn’t going to work. The cost of shipping a 200-pound device to Puerto Rico would be $1,000, and it would cost another $200 to deliver the generator from the docks to the consumer’s home. That’s more than half the cost of the basic model, which sells for about $2,000.

InverSOL is pretty much a Puerto Rican company now, even though it operates under the Venture Creations umbrella at Rochester Institute of Technology, Rodriguez’s alma mater. Council Rock, a majority owner of inverSOL, is a graduate of the same incubator. An InverSOL manufacturing plant and retail store opened in Puerto Rico last month, employing 15 people.

“There’s a deep manufacturing ecosystem on the island,” Rodriguez said. Despite news of major devastation that continues today, a year after Hurricane Maria, he said the people and materials to make the company go are there.

For now, Rodriguez said, “We’re providing executive support and engineering support from Rochester.”

InverSol’s sales force provides training for consumers to use the generators. Each sale comes with 30 minutes of customer training so the buyers will understand how to operate the systems when they need them. They may also need to understand that they need to run some household appliances at one time and others at another time in order to avoid tripping a circuit breaker.

Rodriguez said the setup in not difficult: “an on-off button and that’s it.” Technical help is available online and in person.  Units sell for $2,000 to $5,000 depending on their features, and there’s no additional cost for fuel.

That training is key, Platt said, as operating generators currently available can be complicated and even dangerous at times. Hooked up to an outside line incorrectly, an emergency generator can cause a power line worker to be electrocuted, he said.

But Platt raved about having a generator that operates on solar power. Finding fuel, having the money to pay for fuel, and finding fuel that hasn’t been compromised by flooding conditions can be insurmountable barriers during a disaster, he said.

“That’s kind of cool that we have a local entrepreneur considering this kind of thing. The fact that he’s creating jobs down in Puerto Rico is even more amazing,” Platt said.

“Whoever this person is, he’s a really smart guy who saw this need and made something of it. I know nothing of the company but I think it’s a really neat idea.”

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Monroe County unveils new solar power and sustainability team

Standing before a field of tens of thousands of solar panels in Hilton, Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo announced on Wednesday that she has created a sustainability team to carry on work like the solar array and other energy-saving projects recently launched in the county.

Dinolfo listed four projects that are saving the county about $1 million a year through reduced energy costs. Two projects required no investment from the county, and the two others involved investments totaling $3.66 million that she said would be recovered in just four years.

Cheryl Dinolfo announces her sustainability team, flanked by County Legislator Ed Wilt, Solar Liberty's Adam Rizzo, and Sustainability Team leader Mike Garland
Cheryl Dinolfo announces her sustainability team, flanked by County Legislator Ed Wilt, Solar Liberty’s Adam Rizzo, and Sustainability Team leader Mike Garland

The projects are:

  • Two solar arrays—one off Manitou Beach Road in Hilton and another at a former landfill in Penfield—that generate a combined 13 megawatts of energy, providing enough power for approximately 2,500 homes.
  • Replacement of lighting at county water facilities and Frontier Field with LEDs, at a cost of $3.04 million that will save $387,000 a year.
  • Replacing windows at the Hall of Justice, costs $820,000 and saving $62,000 a year.
  • Creating energy monitoring and controls for county buildings, which will save $220,000 a year.

Adam Rizzo, president of Solar Liberty, the Buffalo company that installed the solar arrays and will operate them for the county, said the two arrays represent the largest municipal solar project in Western New York, and one of the largest in the state.

“Monroe County is (showing) by example what our government should be doing to lead us into the green economy,” Rizzo said.

The sustainability team will be headed by Mike Garland, director of the county’s Department of Environmental Services. Dinolfo said the team would meet once a month to assess current and future opportunities to improve sustainability—lessening the county’s environmental impact while saving money.

All the people appointed and others who will be added are currently employed by the county and will take on sustainability as an additional duty, Dinolfo said.  The team includes people from environmental services, finance, planning and development, transportation, parks and the Greater Rochester International Airport.

Residents may track the county’s sustainability projects and initiatives at its new website.

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