• More than 2 dozen Union County buildings to have solar panels installed

  • by Ryan Hutchins/The Star-Ledger on January 15, 2012
  • UNION COUNTY — More than two dozen government, school and nonprofit buildings in Union County are expected to have solar panels on them by this summer.

    The installations are part of a renewable-energy program orchestrated by the Union County Improvement Authority and backed by the county government. The panels are being installed at no cost to taxpayers due to the involvement of a private energy company, county officials said.

    So far, installations at four sites in Linden, Roselle Park and Cranford have been completed, said Charlotte DeFilippo, the authority’s executive director.

    "We have 10 facilities currently under construction, and we have 10 more facilities that are under permit and should start shortly," she said.

    When completed, the project will include 27 locations, slightly fewer than originally planned. They will be on government buildings, libraries, schools and other structures in Garwood, Hillside, Elizabeth, New Providence, Plainfield, Rahway, Roselle Park, Scotch Plains, Springfield and Winfield, as well as the three communities that already have panels.

    The improvement authority has estimated the panels will generate some 3 megawatts of combined electricity, enough to power several hundred homes.

    "This is a real asset to the municipalities," DeFilippo said.

    The initiative, dubbed the Renewable Energy Program, is designed to give local governments a way to receive the benefit of solar power with no startup cost. The 16 participating organizations, from cities to schools and libraries, will simply purchase energy at a reduced price. The project follows a similar initiative in Morris County, where thousands of solar panels were installed on school and county buildings.

    The authority bonded about $15 million, or 70 percent of the startup costs, to fund the project, according to officials from the county, which had to back the bonds.

    That money, however, will be repaid over 15 years by Tioga Energy, a California-based company that is installing the panels. Tioga, which will own and operate the panels, is also putting up the remaining startup cost, about $6.5 million.

    Tioga will earn a profit through tax breaks and the sale of solar-energy credits.

    "The project is going along really well. I’m extremely pleased," said Mayor Richard Gerbounka of Linden, where panels have already been installed on the public library. "It’s too early to tell how much of a benefit we will get, but I know we will get some energy credits off of our electric bill and it’s not costing the city of Linden any money.