Turning hydroelectricity into savings

On Tuesday, people were fishing by the hydroelectric dam the Saranac Lake village recently turned into a more profitable feature. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — At the stroke of midnight Tuesday morning, the electricity generated from the water flowing through turbines at the dam under Main Street — where Lake Flower flows into the Saranac River — got more valuable.

The village of Saranac Lake switched to a “remote net metering” of the electricity, meaning instead of selling electricity to the grid at wholesale prices, it creates credits for the village to defer its expenses on electricity.

“Instead of us producing power to sell to National Grid to buy it back, now … we produce power and whatever kilowatts we produce we can get accounts to write it off on, kilowatt for kilowatt,” village Manager John Sweeney said.

Essentially, he said, this allows the village to zero out some of its electricity costs. But if the village produces two kilowatt-hours and only uses one, it only gets one credit.

“We’ll never be able to produce enough power to offset 100% of what we use,” Sweeney said.

Under the previous system, the village would sell electricity to the grid at an average of about 2 cents per kilowatt/hour and buy it back for around 12 cents.

Sweeney said he hopes this change results in a five- or six-fold increase in the value the dam produces for the village, but that all depends on the water. The more water flows, the more kilowatt hours it produces for the village. If there’s a drought, that means less savings for the village.

Because of the fickle nature of nature, Sweeney said it’s hard to make a prediction on how much savings the dam will produce.

Sweeney said National Grid legally has to allow the village to make this change because of the remote net metering law New York passed in 2011 promoting renewable electricity like Saranac Lake’s hydro plant.

Village Trustee Rich Shapiro said this change has been a “long time coming.” There have been several hurdles for the village to clear.

The dam’s been offline for 16 months after a gate failure and electrical problems.

Sweeney said the electrical generation was fired up last Wednesday, May 26, and the village sold five days’ worth of electricity before it made the switch to remote metering.

If the dam produces a lot of electricity, it could result in a lower levy on taxpayers in future years, but Sweeney said he’s not budgeting for that yet. He needs time to see how effective it is.


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