Moorestown looks into going solar

Cathy Ward, Chair of Sustainable Moorestown, helped to get the town government of Moorestown, New Jersey to install solar panels on the roof of the newly opened municpal building. Other measures such as additional solar arrays and a green roof, are planned. July 11, 2014, Moorestown, New Jersey ( MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer )
Cathy Ward, Chair of Sustainable Moorestown, helped to get the town government of Moorestown, New Jersey to install solar panels on the roof of the newly opened municpal building. Other measures such as additional solar arrays and a green roof, are planned. July 11, 2014, Moorestown, New Jersey ( MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer )
Posted: July 14, 2014

On sunny days the roof of Moorestown's new town hall and public library heats up, and so does the water in the faucets below.

"It got up to 180 degrees over the winter," Catherine Ward said after climbing a steep yellow ladder last week to inspect the building's rooftop solar array. "By the time they opened the building [in April], they had to dial it back to 140."

It was the first time that Ward, chair of Sustainable Moorestown, had laid eyes on the south-facing array of 16 gray, plastic-encased panels installed over the winter that power the water heater.

Ragan Design Group, the Medford architectural firm that designed the 46,000-square-foot building, "just said this is a good idea," Ward said. The roof has fittings in place that allow for expansion of the solar system.

As progressive and impressive as it is, the 32-by-40-foot array would be dwarfed by a 15-acre solar-electric project that Ward's advisory committee recommended Monday to the township council.

"It is possible to cover the entire township's [municipal] energy usage with a ground-mounted solar array," she told council members at their monthly meeting last week.

Sustainable Moorestown's preliminary analysis, according to Ward, concluded that by using solar energy to provide electricity to all the township's municipal buildings, the estimated $9 million project would not only recoup its costs but "could make a substantial return" for the township.

The council did not act on the proposal, but members appeared receptive.

Councilman Greg Newcomer, who was active in Sustainable Moorestown and an advocate for solar energy before his election to council in 2012, said he strongly supported the proposal.

"It sounds like a win-win," said Mayor Christopher Chiacchio, who said he favored taking "the next baby step" to determine whether the township can get a grant to hire a consultant.

"The numbers are incredible," Ward, an environmental lawyer with the law firm Stradley Ronon, said in an interview last week at her office in Cherry Hill.

"It looks like we could be realizing a half-million to a million-and-a-half a year," she said. "It's crazy. You say, 'How is this possible?' "

The plan's economic benefit relies in part on the expectation that a solar array would generate electricity at a cost significantly below what the town would pay to a public utility. The township now pays about $750,000 annually to run the lights, air-conditioning, and computers that consume electricity in township offices, according to Ward.

More important, the plan also depends on a program by which New Jersey compensates entities, including municipalities, that develop solar-electric arrays.

Under the arrangement, known as Solar Renewal Energy Credits, or SRECs, townships can receive about $175 per kilowatt hour for the electricity that flows to its municipal buildings within a five-mile radius of its production site. The township's sewage treatment plant is not part of the calculus.

Using a 3.5-megawatt solar array to generate 5 megawatts annually as a model, "we did a scenario calculating SRECs at just $20 and came up with a half-million dollars in additional benefit" to the township, Ward said.

Since their creation in New Jersey in 2004, SRECs have fluctuated between $65 and $600 per kilowatt hour, prompting the Legislature last year to stabilize their value at around $175.

Calculating SRECs at $140 - well below the stabilized rate - Sustainable Moorestown produced an estimated annual revenue to the township of almost $1.9 million.

If the town chooses not to own and maintain the site itself, Ward said, it could enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a private, for-profit company that would build and operate the array itself and negotiate a long-term price for the electricity it sells to the town.

Such agreements traditionally run 30 years, after which the PPA contractor may turn the facility over to the municipality.

Ward also told the council that the township might be able to situate the proposed array on two "brownfield" parcels on New Albany Road that belonged to the former pesticide processing firm known as Pulvering Services Inc.

The company, which is no longer in business, was designated a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site in the 1990s because of pesticide ingredients in its soil. The EPA remediated the site in 2000.

According to Ward, the township's former solicitor told Sustainable Moorestown that because there is a nearly $1.1 million Superfund lien against the property, the township could acquire title to the land and vacate the lien through a tax foreclosure.

Additionally, she told council, because the site is in a commercial and industrial zone with a "robust electric grid infrastructure," connection to the grid should be "reasonably painless and cost-effective."

Ward told the council Monday that the next step would be for the township to hire a consultant who would vet Sustainable Moorestown's cost analysis and recommend whether the town should go with a PPA or build and operate an array itself.

"We feel very confident recommending this project," Ward told the council.


doreilly@phillynews.com

856-779-3841 856-779-3841 doreillyinq

Call using Skype Send SMS Learn more You'll need Skype CreditNo Skype credit required

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|