Centre eyes solar energy for savings

By Carol Terracina Hartman


BELLEFONTE — The Centre County commissioners remain in support of a solar component in the county’s Guaranteed Energy Savings Act program .

The program, a partnership between the county and McClure Co., Inc. offers an energy audit identifying 12 projects that, as estimated, could save the county $5.6 million in energy costs over time.

The program itself will cost $5.4 million to implement through updates, upgrades and construction, Planning and Community Development Director Robert Jacobs said that this week’s comissioners’ meeting.

Total 20-year savings is estimated at $11.1 million, according to program information.

And that’s how it is supposed to work.

Pennsylvania Act 39 (2010) provides for municipalities to fund an energy savings program through leveraging wasted utility dollars. In essence, the energy saving funds the costs of projects and improvements.

Act 39 also allows local governments to work with a single contractor that guarantees the energy savings program components for 20 years: if the system does not perform as projected, the contractor is obligated to make up the difference.

While the cost of the 1.5 kW solar array – and its potential for savings – has been revised based upon a recent change in energy providers, Jacobs said the potential savings is reduced to $4.2 million, or $1.4 million – $1.6 million without solar. The solar project primarily would provide electricity to the prison, he added.

Commissioner Mark Higgins said the recent energy savings is not a reason for deciding for or against the solar project; energy costs could be higher at the end of the current provider contract.

“I just want to know when we are going to get solar done,” Higgins said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Public meetings March 13 and April 20 identified the 12 projects, the cost of each, and the potential for savings. Presently, the Sheriff’s Office is under construction for a roof replacement, window replacement and office repairs relating to roof leaks, Jacobs said; despite costs of a roof replacement, those projects can mean $10,000 in energy savings. Other projects include retrofitting six county facilities to LED lighting: cost is $510,900 with savings projected at approximately $1.6 million.

Board Chair Michael Pipe noted payment for the solar array has some options.

“Essentially, we’re going to pay a little up front and buy it out over the [seven] years or we’re going to buy it up front. Or, we pay nothing up front and buy it later,” Pipe said.

To date, McClure, with headquarters in Harrisburg and field offices in Williamsport, State College and Wilkes-Barre, has worked with Northhampton, York, Lackawanna, Beaver, Schuylkill, Bedford and Adams counties on energy savings programs.

The board’s next meeting is 10 a.m., Tuesday, August 14.