Imagine eliminating electric bills for every town government building, street light, and public school in Colonie.
That’s what the City of Cohoes plans to do with a project involving its reservoir and an array of floating solar panels.
Three years ago, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that the U.S. could meet 10 percent of America’s energy needs using “flotovoltaics” on municipal reservoirs. I propose exploring this possibility with Colonie’s Stony Creek Reservoir in Clifton Park.
The future of Stony Creek has become a hot-button issue. The town government has extended its deliberations as residents consider what to do with this 963-acre asset, which includes its 365 acres of water.
Discussion has focused on whether to sell the reservoir and shed the property tax bill Colonie pays the Town of Clifton Park. In recent years, our town’s leaders have reduced the need for Stony Creek water by making sound investments in our Mohawk River filtration plant and by wisely connecting Colonie to the City of Albany’s water supply. But, as recent weather events have shown, climate change isn’t just a theory. Climate change is already reality.
Today, storms are washing out roads. Out west, droughts and wildfires worsen each year. As these conditions worsen, we may wish we kept Stony Creek as a backup. But Stony Creek is more than just a potential water source. Across our nation, reservoirs play a critical role in boosting carbon-free energy supplies.
A good example can be found right “next door.”
The City of Cohoes will develop its 10-acre reservoir as a floating solar array demonstration project site. The plan could, at the very least, wipe out the city government’s electric bill. Total savings from the $5.9 million project could reach $660,000 each year, and that’s if the solar panels operate at just 60 percent capacity. Cohoes also hopes to partner with the city’s school district to use the reservoir’s remaining solar power to cover those electric bills.
Colonie’s population is five times greater than Cohoes, and our electric needs much larger. And a similar plan for Stony Creek may require upfront investment or a private partnership where Colonie retains ownership. But Stony Creek’s water surface is 36 times larger than Cohoes’ reservoir. Colonie could cover the cost of this project while return on investment would help keep our taxes low for the long haul. It could even finance improvements to make Stony Creek a truly independent backup water supply if future generations need it.
We must make every significant decision with climate change in mind. Colonie should think hard before selling Stony Creek, an asset worth an estimated $15 million. As open space located in one of the highest growth areas in the state, Stony Creek is nearly priceless. With a planner’s foresight, Stony Creek could become an asset that serves Colonie’s financial and environmental interests for decades.
That’s something Colonie taxpayers and our future generations deserve.
The writer is a professional regional planner and the Democratic, Working Families, and Colonie Forward nominee for Colonie town supervisor.