Pittsgrove Township Board of Education looking at solar project
Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2011, 1:40 AM
By Phil Dunn / Today's Sunbeam Today's Sunbeam

PITTSGROVE TWP. - The Pittsgrove Township Board of Education held a public presentation here last week on two proposed solar arrays that, if approved, will service the school district with reduced electricity costs.

The presentation was given by Camden-based company Blue Sky Power LLC. The rural school district is eyeing the two separate solar arrays as a way to save energy costs with little to no capital expense.

“With this project we can lock in, over 15 years, a price for energy,” said district architect Robert N. Garrison Jr.

One solar array would be placed behind the tennis courts approximately 500 feet from both the middle school and high school. The 2-MW system would take approximately eight acres of land and service both the middle school and high school.

The second solar array would generate approximately 200 kW and would be placed on one acre of land behind the Olivet School.

“We try to make the process as easy as possible for the district — we are basically the face of the project and coordinate all the necessary efforts,” said Bradd A. Forstein, EVP of Business Development of Sky Blue. “We want to make sure this project would go smooth and to make it fair and competitively bid.”

Though representatives from Blue Sky said they would present all options to the district, they recommended the district pursue a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

According to Forstein, a 2-MW solar array could cost upwards of $8 million. The PPA would allow the district to pass that financial burden off to a third-party developer.

“We go through an extensive interview process with these folks — the biggest thing with these projects is making sure the financing is tight,” said Forstein. “This type of system is fairly simple to build, but they are very complicated to finance.”

Forstein said the only capital outlay for the district would be the use of their land and approximately $50,000 that would be reimbursed once the project is approved.

By allowing the third-party developer to use their land, the district will be sold electricity at a reduced rate, said Forstein. He estimated an annual savings of $50,000 to $80,000 a year in electricity for the district.

The third party will also manage all aspects of the solar array.

A normal contract length for a PPA is 15 years, after that time the district will have three choices on how to move forward.

“The district can choose to extend the PPA, buy the solar array outright, or end the agreement and have the third party restore the land,” said Forstein.

Though the financial risk is less for the district by entering into a PPA, the district loses the ability to generate and sell SRECs, that benefit is passed along to the third-party developer.

School board member Patricia Schneider had questions on if the third-party developer were to default on the project.

“Does the burden fall on the district?” she asked.

Forstein said the SRECs market is stable enough to keep these types of projects viable.

He said since many PPA’s have not gone but more then a couple years it is unknown how successful these types of project will be 10 or 15 years down the line.

Garrison also mentioned the education benefits of the solar arrays. “These are live systems so we would install a kiosk to show the power generation every single day,” said Garrison. “Students can track that information over an extended period of time.”

Garrison said the third-party developer will also have to provide the district with a solar curriculum that can be used in the classroom.


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