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Colonie Announces Agreement With Gravity Renewables

Gravity Renewables
Jesse King
The 20-year deal between Colonie and Gravity Renewables was facilitated by the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance.

The town of Colonie, New York has entered a 20-year deal with Gravity Renewables to offset its energy costs with locally-produced hydroelectric power.

The hydroplant largely hidden from the road in Schuylerville, New York, produces electricity by using water from Fish Creek en route to Saratoga Lake. At the facility on Tuesday, Democratic Colonie Town Supervisor Paula Mahan said the new deal, facilitated by the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance, will offset the town’s power costs by over 50 percent, or roughly $400,000 a year.

Gravity Renewables
Credit Jesse King / WAMC
Water from Fish Creek is carried about a quarter mile to the hydroplant.

“It’s great for the town. It’s great for the environment, it’s gonna offset about 50 percent of our carbon footprint. And it’s also great for the regional economy," Mahan assures. "As part of this agreement we’re a major part of this whole process here today.”

John Elmer is the director of operations at Brookfield Renewable, which runs the Schuylerville site, about 45 minutes north of Colonie. He says the water moves a turbine – which, in turn, spins a self-excited generator to produce voltage for the National Grid field outside. Elmer adds Brookfield staff actually brought the plant back to life last year, after a broken shaft temporarily knocked it out of commission.

“Our challenge on this was we had to work on the turbine, which is inside this tank – we had a small gantry crane here that we had to use, we had to use some outside craneage to get the equipment in and out. So just a lot of work and skills needed to do that," Elmer explains. "We take good care of [the equipment], they last for a long time.”

Indeed, Elmer expects the new work to last 15 to 20 years – and the plant itself is almost 100 years old. Gravity Renewables Director of Project Development Omay Elphick says that reliability makes hydropower an “economic and energy legacy” in New York. He says there are hundreds of plants like Schuylerville’s across the state.

“These plants are already here…They just need reinvestment today," says Elphick. "So these types of partnerships, and this project here, is really about taking care of the resources that we already have.”

Schuylerville hydroelectric is a 1.7 megawatt facility, which according to Elphick was important in its selection – the plant is just the right size for Colonie. Of course, at 37 miles away, the town won’t directly see any of it. Rather, Colonie will generate energy credits with a meter on site – a process Elphick calls “remote net metering.”

“That meter belongs to Colonie, in [its] name. And when we generate electricity here, that meter is spinning backwards, generating a credit," he explains. "In the accounting department at the utility, that credit is then applied on a monthly basis to Colonie’s various electric bills located around the town of Colonie.”

Supervisor Mahan says the town has already generated credits over the past few weeks. While she says this is the town’s deal – it won’t affect individual households – Colonie residents will reap the benefits in other ways.

“Our goal is always to maintain the services that we have, which we feel are excellent," says Mahan. "We’re doing a lot of different things in town, a lot of big capital projects, so anytime we have a savings it affects our overall budget – which, in the end, is a positive for the residents.”   

The town of Colonie has about 82,000 residents. 

Jesse King is the host of "51%" and a producer for WAMC's afternoon news programs. She also produces the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."