Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

The Morris County Improvement Authority today received the green light from the State Local Finance Board to proceed with its pilot Renewable Energy Program, which the authority called the first of its kind in the state and perhaps in the nation.

This approval will permit the MCIA to issue up to $30 million in bonds, guaranteed by the county, to finance a program that calls for renewable energy sources – in this case solar panels – to be installed on buildings of program participants.

In addition to some Morris County and Morris County Park Commission facilities, the Boonton, Parsippany-Troy Hills, Mountain Lakes, Morris Hills and West Morris School Districts will be participating in the initial pilot program.

In addressing the LFB in Trenton today, Boonton School District Superintendent Dr. Christine Johnson told the board members the move to “go green” will result in both environmental and educational benefits to all participating school districts.

She also noted the program features the ability to lock into a power purchase price for 15 years. “This will be of significant benefit to all participating school districts as they develop their respective budgets,” she said. She concluded her remarks by reminding the Local Finance Board that the Renewable Energy Program results in “no impact to the participating entities’ capital budget, gross or net debt.”

Morris County administrator and MCIA Chairperson John Bonanni told the LFB that local interest in the project is growing. “Morris County has spent the last six months developing this program, which is fully supported by the Morris County Board of Freeholders,” Bonanni said. “More than 40 local municipalities and schools districts, large and small, have expressed interest in participating in the program. We wanted to design a program to take advantage of economies of scale so that governments and school districts with smaller roof space could participate and receive the same benefits as those with larger roof space.”

Morris County Freeholder William J. Chegwidden, liaison to the Improvement Authority, said the pilot project is only the beginning. “Our towns and school districts have expressed tremendous enthusiasm about this program,” he said. “Once we get the pilot program off the ground, we intend to develop a second round of interested entities. The freeholder board views this as a long term project.”

In the Morris Hills Regional School District, Superintendent Dr. Ernest Palestis said the social and educational aspects of the renewable energy project should not be underestimated. “We are certainly pleased that the district will experience long term energy cost savings,” Palestis said. “But, the concept of installing solar power units at Morris Hills and Morris Knolls high schools has also excited our staff and students. Teachers look forward to using the solar power units as living lessons about energy efficiency and alternate forms of energy.”

The Improvement Authority will now solicit requests for proposals for a Power Purchase Agreement from a solar developer who would own, operate and maintain the equipment, according to Chegwidden. “Under our program, a private solar developer would be able to take advantage of tax credits, depreciation, and renewable energy revenue that is available in the solar industry,” he said. “These incentives would then be passed on to the participating local governments by the developer, who would sell the solar energy generated to them at a fixed price, lower than the existing cost of retail energy, for a 15 year period.”

Additional information about the renewable energy initiative may be obtained by calling the Morris County Improvement Authority at 973-285-6020.