WATERTOWN — With a solar energy industry booming in the state, W. Edward Walldroff thinks there couldn’t be a better time for a company to build a solar panel manufacturing plant in a proposed business park near Watertown International Airport.
The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency announced Tuesday that Convalt Energy, a New York City-based renewable energy company, plans to build a solar panel manufacturing facility in the agency’s proposed business park on Route 12F in the town of Hounsfield.
Its sister company, DigiCollect, would also build a facility in the airport park.
Mr. Walldroff, a member of the JCIDA board, believes Convalt can take advantage of the state’s growing solar energy industry if it moves forward with its projects.
“It’s the tip of the iceberg where solar is headed,” he said during a JCIDA meeting Thursday. “New York State’s solar growth is exploding. It’s going to be that way for the next five years.”
He noted that the state is making a commitment to renewable energy.
The JCIDA board on Thursday approved preliminary 20-year tax abatement packages, loan applications and land agreements to transfer land to the companies once the companies are ready for construction.
It’s envisioned that the two companies would invest $834 million in the projects. Combined, the two projects are expected to create more than 2,000 jobs over the next five years. The companies will make an initial investment of $51 million to get up and running.
Before approving separate resolutions to the two companies, the JCIDA board talked to Convalt Energy CEO Hari Achutan about his commitment to moving forward and attracting investors.
To “reassure the public,” Mr. Walldroff expressed confidence in the two companies, as he thinks they are “way beyond” failing because of the ability to line up investors.
Mr. Achutan told the board that he “understands” the costs associated with the projects and the public incentives that they need to proceed.
“We know we’re on the right path,” Mr. Achutan said, adding that he doesn’t listen to anyone who’s told him it cannot be done.
While realizing the companies have “some obstacles” to get through still, board member and treasurer Robert E. Aliasso, Jr. said the JCIDA has “vetted” the two companies, while the state’s Empire State Development Corp. has done the same.
Under the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, or PILOT, the companies would get a 100% property tax break during the first five years of the package, pay 25% for the next five years, 50% in the next five years and 75% in the last five. Over that time, Convalt would pay about $7.93 million in property taxes, while DigiCollect would pay $3.97 million in property taxes,
The JCIDA also would provide DigiCollect a $500,000 loan and Convalt a $250,000 loan with 3% interest over a term of seven years.
The Convalt facility would initially create about 165 jobs in the first year, then grow to 525 in five years, JCIDA officials said. DigiCollect would employ an additional 175 people in Watertown in its first year and expand to 1,535 jobs after five years.
The companies hope to break ground on the airport park project in the fourth quarter of this year, or early 2022.
According to the JCIDA, Convalt Energy is gearing up to become a global independent power producer in renewables. The Watertown facility would manufacture photovoltaic (solar) panels to supply its own projects around the world and to sell to other small and large solar projects, including rooftop solar.
By doing so, Convalt would save on the cost of purchasing solar panels for its projects from China.
In year one, Convalt plans to build a 20,000-square-feet facility and hopes to expand it to about 500,000 square feet by the fifth year. That facility would be built on 15 acres just east of the airport entrance.
DigiCollect also would initially construct a 5,000-square-foot facility that would grow to 100,000 square feet in year five. The DigiCollect building would be constructed on about 12 acres, just west of the airport on a former farm.
DigiCollect, a new generation software technology company, would build Enterprise Resource Platforms at the Watertown facility that would manage and monitor the company’s renewable energy system in real time once it’s in operation.
The sensors provide real-time management and monitoring of power transmission lines and monitoring of residential power grids, helping power companies inject higher amounts of renewable energy.
It currently has three patents with the U.S. Department of Technology.
The Watertown Local Development Corp. also would provide a $1 million loan, the North Country Economic Fund is in line for a $500,000 loan and the North Country Alliance would contribute $150,000, said David J. Zembiec, chief executive officer of Jefferson County Economic Development, the JCIDA’s sister organization.
The projects need to go through the site plan process with the Hounsfield and Jefferson County planning boards. Public hearings must be held on the financial package offered by the JCIDA and go through an environmental review the permitting process before they begin.