Township Exploring Solar Farm on Sondek Park Landfill

South Brunswick continuing search for location to add solar panels that would reduce township's $2.4 million annual energy costs.

South Brunswick is continuing its five-year quest to reduce energy costs by bringing solar power to the township.

During Tuesday's Township Council meeting, a presentation by Syncarpha Solar addressed the feasibility of adding a solar installation to the landfill at Sondek Park on New Road in Monmouth Junction. The township previously explored a plan to add a solar installation near the Community Center on New Road, which ultimately fell through due to ongoing issues with legislation surrounding Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs), in which owners of solar systems earn credits for the electricity the installations produce.

Township officials said South Brunswick must continue to look for ways to reduce their $2.4 million annual energy costs.

"We started on this about five years ago when we had an energy audit on the Municipal Building, Senior Center, and library. The Board of Education also did their own audit on their buildings," said Public Affairs Coordinator Ron Schmalz. "We've made improvements in the municipality and did upgrades from the $277,000 in stimulus money we got four years ago. We're already realizing savings there, so to add on solar power would offer us even more savings, with the ultimate goal to make us 50 percent self sufficient when it comes to energy costs. Adding solar power will get us a lot closer to that goal."

The landfill at Sondek Park, which is between 60 and 70 acres, offers an ideal location for the installation, however there are no township facilities within a 3-mile radius of the proposed site. 

"With Sondek Park we're the owner of that landfill, but net metering becomes the issue because there are no (energy) off takers. If there was a business there, we could sell the energy to them but there's nobody out there," Schmalz said. "If there was a municipal building there, then we could feed power to that, but we don't have anything out there."

Savings would be realized through the installation feeding the power grid. If the site were to feed 10 megawatts a year into the grid, the township would then get credit on its annual energy costs through a price reduction.

Representatives for Syncarpha laid out the potential savings offered once the state finalizes legislation surrounding solar credits. Syncarpha's other projects include solar installations for the New York Jets practice facility in Florham Park, N.J., Georgian Court University in Lakewood, Stockton College and the University of Arizona.

"The sun shines the same on the most beautiful piece of land as it does on the least beautiful piece of land," said company representative Richard Turnure. "So why not put (solar panels) on the least beautiful piece of land."

If the township were to add a three megawatt installation on 12 acres of the landfill, it would hypothetically provide about $126,000 per year in annual savings. Turnure said for every one kilowatt of energy from a solar installation, the township could save approximately $36,000. Another bonus to the solar panels is that they rarely become disabled. Turnure said that out of the 50,000 solar panels the company has throughout New Jersey, only one broke during Superstorm Sandy despite being in areas that were hit hard by the storm.

However, the savings that could be realized are still dependent on the state passing legislation to overhaul how New Jersey meets its goals to increase dependence on renewable energy.

In testimony before the BPU, Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand said a proposal floated earlier this year would allow ratepayers to get a better idea on how much they pay for cleaner, but more expensive sources of renewable energy, such as solar power, according to NJ Spotlight. Bill A-2966 addressed how much of the state’s electricity should be supplied by solar systems. The bill could double the amount of solar power to be purchased by energy suppliers, which could increase costs to ratepayers by up to $400 million a year.

Suppliers can meet the mandates by purchasing SRECs, or by making a payment, in lieu of purchasing an SREC. The payments, however, have become a non-factor since the price of SRECs has dropped by more than two-thirds in the past year, according to a report on NJ Spotlight.

"The state passed legislation within the last four months that didn't allow for municipalities like ours to do net metering, so if you don't have an off taker right there then there are no savings for the town," Schmalz said. "BPU is re-formulating the legislation, so with the numbers we've seen we could save three and one-half cents per kilowatt hour."

The township will next explore what kind of installation could be built on the Sondek Park landfill and what kind of savings could be realized as it waits for the state to finalize its solar legislation.

"We're hopeful BPU and the state will have this legislation settled by the spring," Schmalz said. "The SRECs funding that was put in place to stimulate solar started a big frenzy four or five years ago and most of that money was depleted. They need to pass legislation to put that funding back in place so if we feed the grid we'll be able to get credit for it. That would open up so many things, so it's really critical that state gets that done."


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