UNION COUNTY – The Union County Solar Initiative has just received a 2013 Photovoltaic Project of Distinction Award from two major solar industry organizations, in recognition of its innovative leadership in the solar energy field. Consisting of more than 31 separate solar installations for 15 different public entities, the Solar Initiative is currently the largest public-private solar project of its kind in the country, according to county officials.
The Solar Initiative was completed last fall. Its total capacity is approximately 3,369 kilowatts and it is expected to save taxpayers almost $5 million in electricity costs over the next 15 years, county officials say.
“We realized from the start that the Solar Initiative would be a legacy project for the people of Union County,” said Charlotte DeFilippo, executive director of the Union County Improvement Authority. “For years to come we will all benefit from low cost solar energy and healthier communities.”
The Photovoltaic Project of Distinction Award recognizes projects that serve as role models for the solar industry. Union County’s award is one of only three such awards granted this year by the Solar Energy Industries Association and the Solar Electric Power Association.
“There are tremendous opportunities for growth in the solar industry in Union County, and that translates into job creation as well as a cleaner, healthier environment,” said Linda Carter, chairman of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders. “The Solar Initiative was a highly complex but rewarding project, and The Freeholder Board has been proud to support it.”
Almost all of the Solar Initiative projects are located on the rooftops of schools, libraries, garages and other civic facilities. The exception is one pole-mounted solar installation, located at an athletic field.
Carter noted that all of the installations survived Superstorm Sandy without damage.
“Solar power is durable, reliable and here to stay,” Carter said.
There are larger solar projects in the U.S., but the Solar Initiative is unique in that in brought together more than a dozen different local jurisdictions.
“Because the Improvement Authority used its experience to make all the financial arrangements and standardize the process up front, the local jurisdictions were spared the time and expense of having to reinvent the wheel,” said DeFilippo.
The solar panels were installed under an arrangement called a power purchase agreement (PPA). The PPA model has become common throughout the solar industry.
Under the PPA, the participating public entities paid no money up front for the installations. They were provided by a leading northeast solar company, Tioga Energy.
The participants benefit by paying less for the electricity generated by the solar panels. They pay Tioga Energy approximately half the rate that they would pay for conventional electricity.
Tioga Energy will continue to own, maintain and operate the solar systems for the 15-year length of the agreement.
The participants are: Cranford, Linden, Morris-Union Joint Commission, Plainfield, Rahway, Roselle, Roselle Board of Education (BOE), Berkeley Heights BOE, Garwood BOE, Hillside BOE, Roselle Park BOE, Winfield BOE, Union County Community College, and Union County Vo-Tech Schools.
The Union County Improvement Authority is responsible for financing important civic projects that contribute to economic growth and civic well being. Other recent examples include the new Kellogg Building for Union County College in midtown Elizabeth and the new Linden Library.