Posted Tuesday, November 10th, 2015
The Morris County Board of Freeholders last night unanimously approved the construction of 10 solar projects, as a continuation of the county’s 2011 Solar 2 Program, after a comprehensive and exhaustive review of the economics of 16 potential solar sites across the county.
The board has employed a conservative assessment of each of the 10 sites to be constructed when it comes to their future economic viability, and made a significant effort to project, as best as possible, that the solar power they generate will produce revenue to help pay off past Solar 2 project debt and provide long-term energy cost savings for the county, local governments and school districts that are hosting the solar panels.
The primary objective of the review process by a “Build No Build Committee” was to select only those sites that presented the ability of generate enough revenue to cover their respective portion of debt service, operating and maintenance costs, and the likelihood of producing excess revenues to help pay off previous Solar 2 Program debt.
Since the spring, the Board of Freeholders, in concert with the Morris County Improvement Authority, has spent considerable time with its professionals reviewing how best to proceed with the county’s Solar 2 Program.
This task was undertaken by the “Build No Build Committee” consisting of the MCIA, its professionals and three freeholders.
The work of this committee centered on the financial viability of completing all, some, or none, of the unbuilt sites in the Solar 2 program with the goals of:
1. Minimizing the county’s financial exposure on bonds originally issued to fund Solar 2;
2. Minimizing risks associated with Solar 2 Project completion, if undertaken;
3. Providing budget relief to county and local units through energy savings.
After extensive work, including at least five public hearings, the “Build no Build Committee” has recommended that only a portion of the unbuilt sites in the Solar 2 Program be considered for constructed.
Specifically the recommendation is to construct 10 sites:
- 4 are at county owned sites, including two at the county library, one at the county Public Safety Academy and one at the county’s Office of Temporary Assistance;
- 5 are at public schools: Two in Washington Township, two in Mount Olive and one in Chatham;
- 1 is at a municipal complex in Chester;
- 6 sites will be removed from the Solar 2 Program due to less-than-viable-economics of each site: One each in Hanover, Montville, Mount Olive, Parsippany, Randolph, and at the Morris County School of Technology in Denville.
The county sites provide two economic benefits: First, they produce excess revenue to pay off previous Solar 2 Program debt. Second, they provide energy savings to the county, which lowers energy expenses in the county government budget.
A resolution passed tonight by the freeholder board authorizes the MCIA to construct these 10 sites and have the solar panels operating by the end of 2016.
The county anticipates 27 percent reimbursement for site construction from the federal government through the Federal 1603 Program, which requires work to be completed by a Dec. 31, 2016 deadline.
The county’s solar consultant visited all of the sites in question and did a thorough financial analysis of each location. In particular, each site was analyzed for revenue that could be produced, energy savings for the user, the cost of building and maintaining each site, the layout/aesthetics of each site, and the shovel-readiness of each site.
Details of that effort have been the discussed at a series of public MCIA and freeholder meetings, at which members of the public have had lengthy and detailed dialogue with county officials.
In 2011, the MCIA sold $33.1 million in county-guaranteed bonds to help finance the MCIA’s renewable energy program to install solar panels at 30 municipal and school sites in Morris County to generate power and reduce energy costs for the participants. Of those projects, 17 have been fully built and are up and running.
However, due to a variety of factors – including a legal battle between renewable energy program’s developer and contractor — the Solar 2 Program is facing financial deficits and the remaining originally scheduled sites have not yet been constructed.