LOWVILLE — One legislator’s passion for numbers, spreadsheets and getting to the bottom of things saved Lewis County more than $132,000.
During the Board of Legislators January meeting, Chairman Lawrence L. Dolhof noted that the $149,000 savings since 2018 from the county’s Outer Stowe Street solar array seemed low and asked Legislator Philip C. Hathway if he remembered the projected savings for the project because he was “into the numbers” from the beginning.
He didn’t, but he had them.
“I have that on a spreadsheet, believe it or not,” Mr. Hathway said at the time, noting that he knew the projection was more than what was credited.
Although some county officials were skeptical that the time it would take to unravel the complicated energy production and billing system would yield more than a relatively small amount of savings, Mr. Hathway decided to take a deeper look — and make a new spreadsheet.
Working with County Attorney Joan E. McNichol and Larsen Engineers — the company who helped set up the array project — Mr. Hathway found the county was short $105,950 in credits from National Grid between 2018 and 2020, and $26,779 from Greenskies Clean Energy, totalling almost $133,000.
“Ironically, that is just about the same amount as we have received in credits,” Mr. Hathway told the board, “So we’re going to double our credits for those three years. Going forward, we’re going to be getting (the credits) on an ongoing basis.”
Both National Grid and Greenskies were reportedly cooperative and helpful in pinpointing the low numbers and determining their cause.
Mr. Hathway said National Grid supplied a number for the missing credits that matched his calculations, which Ms. McNichol affirmed are “there” in the National Grid system waiting to be issued to the correct accounts.
In a subsequent interview, Mr. Hathway explained that some of the individual meters for county properties were not included in the program so National Grid had more credits for the county from the power generated by the solar array than they could apply.
To claim the credits due to the county, those meters had to be added, which is in process.
Greenskies acknowledged that some technical issues with an inverter contributed to the array’s intermittent sub-par production over the same time period, but that the issue has since been addressed.
The company guaranteed both the electricity production rate of the array and the reimbursement rate in its contract with the county.
To prevent a recurrence of the situation, Mr. Hathway said Ms. McNichol is working with Greenskies to set up a system that will make monthly tracking possible.
Mr. Dolhof may have asked the initial question, but he told the board it was because he didn’t understand how “complicated this thing really is” — until having conversations with Ms. McNichol and Larsen Engineering to address the under-crediting.
“I’m thankful that Joan had an in on it and was able to wade through the process, but in addition to that, we wouldn’t be where we are without Phil’s efforts,” Mr. Dolhof told the board. “We’re all busy ... Eventually we would have got to it, but it was really Phil who drove the discussions and made sure that we got the credits that were due to us.”
At the meeting, Ms. McNichol and Mr. Hathway each deflected the board’s appreciation to the other.
“He did work through all of those numbers in one of his famous spreadsheets,” Ms. McNichol said.
“The numbers were the easy part ... What Joan did with the contract was the hard part,” Mr. Hathway said.
In the first 15 months it was online, the 2-megawatt array consisting of 7,939 panels and 67 inverters on 10 acres of county land behind the Public Safety Building garnered the county about $85,000 in credits toward electric bills, 25% of which is dedicated to the county’s Health System.
The array was constructed in 2017 and 2018.
Over the 20-year agreement with Greenskies, the array was originally anticipated to deliver about $3 million in savings. With depreciation, Mr. Hathway calculated the number to be more likely around $2.3 million.