CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Ground was broken last week on a solar project not far from the Mohawk River that will provide enough clean energy to power 600 homes.

The 7.2-megawatt project on 40 acres in the middle of the Hicks farm at 160 Sugar Hill Road is being developed by U.S. Light Energy, a leading New York solar energy company that specializes in the development of solar electric and community solar systems.

The traditional tossing of shovelfuls of soil was held May 31 within a few yards of the farm’s apple orchard.

With the project’s steel frames or racks already in the ground, elected officials from the state and federal levels joined representatives from the project’s developer, the New York State Research Development Authority, National Grid, and Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership to extol the benefits of clean energy.

“We’ve been working on community solar in New York for three years, and this is the first project where we’ve got to the construction phase,” said U.S. Light Energy president and CEO Mark Richardson. “This may not be the first community solar project in the state, but it’s one of them and we are really happy to put this policy construct in place.”

A strong supporter of clean energy, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, viewed the project from a wide perspective.

“This is a great partnership that expresses community solar in a grand showcase, a place like New York that is one of those innovative states that embraces change; that has that sense of green vision as we go forward," said Tonko. "Mother Nature is speaking to us, and we don’t have much time to respond to the climate change issue.

"This is an example of showing the responsiveness and the stewardship of the environment to the nth degree. This is the best of America, an example of its pioneering way. It will allow us to think in magnanimous terms, allow us to think outside the barrel, and get things done.”

Joining Tonko and Richardson was Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville. In his remarks, Tedisco noted the benefits of green energy also.

“We’re moving away from fossil fuels, which is so important, expanding new forms of energy which will probably be at a lower cost, if not now, eventually, and protecting the environment,” he said. “We’re being environmentally sound and creating jobs in the 49th Senatorial District. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

David Sandbank, Director of Distributed Energy Resources for NYSERDA explained the benefits of community solar.

“[It’s] really helpful because a lot of people want to go solar but they don’t have the options to partake in the solar industry and go green and reduce their energy bills; it might as simple as shading,” he said. “Think about it. You have one large project here; it’s cheaper to build on a per watt basis, and Mark’s [Richardson’s] company is able to offer credit to subscribers and they’ll get a discount on their bill. New York state is leading the way.”

Sandbank, who said he had experience in Richardson’s role before joining NYSERDA, knows how hard it is to navigate the permit process.

“Construction is the easiest part,” he said. “That sound you hear, the construction, is music to these guys’ ears.”

NYSERDA is partnering with U.S. Light Energy on the project to the tune of $1.6 million through the NY-Sun program, a $1 billion initiative by Gov. Cuomo to build three gigawatts of green energy.

“We have a number of projects in the pipeline throughout the state, but getting to the construction phase with this project was really a coincidence,” Richardson said. “The levers all fell in place for us here not only to get the permits but to actually start construction. The availability was a factor, its location in the New York State Independent Operators load zone was a factor, access to subscribers, and the fact that the site is away from everybody. We just thought this was a great site.”

Richardson expects the project to be completed in four months.

The site’s owner and longtime farmer Tom Hicks said he was happy to see the solar project underway.

“The dairy industry is pretty poor now, and we needed something to supplement the income and it’s better than houses,” he said.

As of June 1 residents of Clifton Park have been given a 30-day head start to subscribe with the project before the listing goes public. Anyone wishing to subscribe should contact Common Energy, U.S. Light Energy’s customer acquisition partner.

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