Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ideas4plainfield - Ledger - Solar power as income-generator

Published in the Star-Ledger, Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mercer County town looking to tap into solar power


Continuing his quest for a greener township, Hamilton Mayor Glen Gilmore will be requesting proposals for installation of solar panels on all township buildings.

Gilmore's plan involves soliciting solar power firms to install the solar panels, then sell the generated power to the township for a specified length of time, generally from 10 to 25 years.

"Solar panels could help us significantly reduce our electric costs, while also helping us to be more environmentally responsible," Gilmore said. "We're looking at not only cutting our energy costs, but also at cutting harmful emissions we as a municipality generate."

Gilmore estimated the township could save as much as 10 percent off the township's nearly $1 million per year energy bill by finding a solar provider willing to enter into the "purchase power agreement."

The proposals would require the investor to cover the cost of installing and maintaining the equipment. The provider would own the equipment, acting as a utility provider.

The agreement allows the township to take advantage of state and federal tax benefits that would not otherwise be available to a municipality.

The provider retains the credit, but in return will sell power to the township at a rate as much as 30 percent below coal fired energy rates, said John Drexinger of NJ Solar Solutions of Metuchen.

The plan also allows for predictable energy costs for the township during the life of the agreement, Drexinger said, removing a large uncertainty from the budget process.

"The advantageous thing is you are not paying for the installation because you are signing a power purchase agreement, but you are locking in utility costs at a stabilized rate," Drexinger said. "For schools and municipalities, power purchase agreements are a very smart investment."

Gilmore said he decided to explore a purchase power program after the township was stymied in attempts to gain federal grant money for solar panel installation.

Solar energy has been tagged as one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which have been linked to global temperature increases in the past century.

On Friday, Gov. Jon Corzine signed the Global Warming Response Act, which mandates reduction in greenhouse gases by the year 2020. The law has been cited by environmental advocates as among the most sweeping emissions reduction legislation passed to date.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.