Council moves forward on solar project

A canopy of solar panels would cover dozens of parking spaces at City Hall under a proposed concept plan that is expected to save the city more than a quarter-million dollars over 15 years.

The City Council was presented with the Union County Improvement Authority’s (UCIA) Renewable Energy Initiative during a special meeting tonight. The governing body ultimatly voted in favor of a resolution to move ahead on the project. Savings to the city in the first year of the program could be $14,000 and as much as $22,000 in the 15th year, with a total savings of $268,387, according to Daniel Swayze of Cranford-based Birdsall Services Group. The canopy would generate an estimate 152 kW. The change in savings over time would result from a fixed escalation factor, he said.

The canopy would be the responsibility of the developer, he said, who could decide at the end of the 15-year program to remove it or sell it, or the UCIA could extend the initiative. The city has no financial obligation, Swayze said, while the county guarantees the UCIA bonds. The canopy of solar panels is a minimum of 9 feet high but can range to 20 feet, depending on the city’s needs. City officials estimated they might need a clearance of 12 to 14 feet for certain municipal vehicles.

City officials seemed keen on repairing solar panels on the roof of City Hall, which were installed sometime in the early ’80s, as part of the recent initiative. The estimated start for construction of the UCIA’s project is February or March, said Swayze, who suggested another meeting to discuss the timing of the city’s repairs before design and construction of the canopy. There also were issues of property easements in and around the City Hall lot to be aware before installation as the solar panel canopy could not be lifted onto the roof though it could be moved to another part of the lot, if necessary.

The UCIA last summer issued Request For Proposals (RFP) for renewable energy projects, which ended up going to Tioga Energy in San Francisco. About 16 entities within 11 towns will take part in the program. The authority will borrow $20 million and cover up to 70 percent of the cost of the projects that will outfit various public buildings with solar or wind power.

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