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Schenectady, N.Y., Works on Virtual Community Power Plant

The city is seeking to move forward with a new program in the coming months that would retrofit low- and middle-income households with green technology, an initiative officials say will reduce carbon emissions and more.

(TNS) — The city is seeking to move forward with a new program in the coming months that would retrofit low- and middle-income households with green technology, an initiative officials say will reduce carbon emissions, lower the cost of living and serve as a model for the greater Capital Region and beyond.

The so-called Schenectady Community Virtual Power Plant, unveiled during a Monday press event at City Hall, would supplement the city's HOMES program by setting aside millions to cover the costs of installing solar panels, battery energy storage units and other smart technology in homes sold under the program.

HOMES, or Home Ownership Made Easy in Schenectady, was created a decade ago to reduce blight and increase homeownership in the city by recycling tax-foreclosed homes that are vacant but salvageable. The program helps connect low- and middle-income families with financial resources needed to buy and restore the properties.

The goal of the new program is to create a network of homes equipped with technology to capture and store energy, monitor its overall use and autonomously determine when to sell the energy back to the power grid, reducing overall energy costs.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city is hoping to secure $1 million in federal funding, and has submitted a request to use $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding earlier this year, a proposal he believes the City Council will look favorably on.

The council is expected to begin reviewing applications in the coming weeks after a citizen advisory committee finishes its work in assessing the more than 70 applications seeking nearly $80 million in ARPA funding. The city has around $11 million left to spend from its initial $26 million tranche and is expecting an equal tranche of funding later this year.

"We're going to start moving on this at the end of the summer one way or another," McCarthy said.

EcoLONG, an Albany-based renewable energy company, will provide the technology to retrofit the buildings, including machine-learning technology that will track how and when energy is used in the home and determine when to store and sell off energy, according to Nancy Min, the company's CEO.

"The real goal is to facilitate this trading amongst all these participants, so that we can lower the cost of energy on an ongoing basis," she said. "Everything is centered around lowering that risk, lowering the monthly costs of homeownership. Energy is a huge part of homeownership."

U.S. Rep Paul Tonko, D- Amsterdam, said he is hoping to secure $1 million in funding to support the program through the ongoing appropriations process, which he hopes will clear the House of Representatives by the end of summer and pass the Senate by the late fall.

Tonko has submitted 15 projects requesting $12.8 million in total funding. Projects include a $1.5 million request from the Schenectady Community Action Program for campus upgrades, as well as $650,000 to expand Esperanza Verde Park in Amsterdam.

The congressman said the virtual power plant is a strong application and will receive widespread community support, adding that he believes the program could be used as a model for the region and beyond.

"This is about reducing the carbon footprint here in the region, and that carbon footprint is something that is essential that has to be responded to so that the next generations can have a stronger planet," Tonko said.

The community virtual power plant is the latest example of the city leveraging technology to reduce its overall carbon footprint.

In recent years, the city has moved forward with installing LED streetlights and sensors that can dim lighting, monitor traffic and pedestrian analytics and boost public Wi-Fi signals through its Smart Cities initiative.

McCarthy, meanwhile, said the city is hoping to target properties in the Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant neighborhoods, where blight has been an ongoing issue, but noted there may be opportunities in other parts of the city.

He said it's unclear how many homes could be retrofitted under the program, noting that the city forecloses on properties in various conditions. He added that the program offers a return on its value.

"These features will reduce the overall costs of home ownership because they're getting much more efficient in terms of heating and cooling and managing the consumption of electricity in the house," he said.

© 2022 The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.