Neither pandemic nor snowstorm could stop the Bedford Central School District leaders from conducting business this week. On Wednesday, Dec. 16, the Board of Education and community members viewed a presentation from green energy company Brightcore Energy about a proposed lease of approximately 30 acres behind West Patent Elementary School for the establishment of a solar farm.
The session took place one week after the BOE authorized Brightcore to file the necessary documents in order to begin the submission process for a solar project on district property.
The green energy company is also considering solar carports in West Patent Elementary School’s parking lot and the lot at Mount Kisco Elementary School. The arrangement stipulates that roof warranty must be unaffected and there would be no loss of parking spaces. The carports would provide protection from inclement weather and also include electric vehicle charging stations and LED lighting to improve visibility.
Under the arrangement, BCSD will make no upfront investment and is expected to receive an annual site lease payment of approximately $520,000. Throughout the 25-year lease term, the district is expected to receive a total payment of $13 million.
Brightcore first approached the school district about an easement arrangement to lease property at West Patent for the creation of a solar project in the summer of 2019. Since that time, Brightcore Co-founders Rob Krugel and Konstantin Braun have attended several Finance Subcommittee meetings, Facilities Subcommittee meetings and private BOE meetings.
“I think we’ve put you through the wringer,” said BOE President Colette Dow. “While this is the first time I think you’ve had the pleasure of being at the full public board meeting, you’ve actually been on camera and in-person with members of the public at some of our committee meetings.”
The Brightcore request is part of a program created by New York state and its electric utilities to increase the number of solar projects in the state by providing attractive incentives to project developers. The program developed by Brightcore specifically targets schools in the Con Edison service territory, enabling them to host community solar projects and “earn significant revenue from doing so.” The company has previously implemented solar projects under this program at a middle school in New Jersey, and at a high school and college in Pennsylvania.
The proposed solar farm behind WPES would generate 7.5 megawatts of direct current. The facility’s estimate annual output of 8,600,000 kWh, or kilowatt hour, is equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 6,100 metric tons per year, according to Brightcore.
During the presentation, Brightcore’s co-founders explained that hosts do not invest any capital in the project and are not required to purchase electricity through the program. Brightcore’s role is to develop, build, fund, own and operate the projects. It provides all capital and covers all maintenance expense.
Company officials also said environmental and civil engineers from the firm Bergmann Associates thoroughly inspected the West Patent property to ensure there was no presence of endangered species or historical artifacts that would be disturbed. The engineers also reviewed the project specifications so it would minimize disruption to surrounding wetlands and streams.
Brightcore representatives said that, in addition to generating annual rent payments to the school district, the project would reduce electricity bills for community members and improve security via fencing around the solar array. Other benefits it cited were educating students on solar energy via real-time monitoring and “promoting environmental stewardship.”
Construction of the solar farm will take approximately six months, with a majority of the work being done during the summer break, according to Brightcore.
“We will absolutely work to minimize any sort of disruption to whatever is happening at the school,” Mr. Braun said Wednesday.
In response to a question from board member Michael Bauscher as to whether the company has had any problems with local zoning ordinances, Mr. Krugel said, “we haven’t had an issue.” Since the project is located on district-owned property, he said, it does not need to go through local permitting channels.
Mr. Krugel also emphasized that the project was still in the preliminary stages. “There’s still a significant amount of work to do,” he said.
The Town of Bedford is currently engaged in discussions with another private company, Sunrise Community Solar, that is seeking to build a solar farm just over the border in Mount Kisco. Planning board members have criticized the proposal for focusing on a currently undeveloped site, saying it needlessly jeopardized open space and wildlife habitats. The applicants are also asking the town to consider amending its zoning code to accommodate the construction of future solar arrays. However, the planning board has not been involved in discussions involving Brightcore’s proposed projects located on Bedford Central School District property.
Following the presentation, BOE members stated an interest in involving the community in the project as it moves forward.
“I think it’s important that the community has a right to review all of that and have input,” said board member John Boucher.
Brightcore’s presentation can be viewed at bcsdny.org.