Bloomfield, N.J. - Bloomfield Citizens Group to Hold Event Demonstrating How Solar Can Save Tax Payers Millions

Last week the EPA announced that it would no longer pursue the Clean Power Plan, the 2014 executive order which outlined a path to decrease fossil fuel use. The rationale behind rescinding the plan was that it would help the struggling coal industry and miners whose economic wellbeing was made a key part in the presidential race. Many have read this move as a continuation of the United States’ diminishing role in the struggle against climate change and a hard hit to the burgeoning renewable energy sector.

Interestingly however, many of the coal-fired powerplants are still set to close, as the shrinking coal industry is no longer competitive other energy sources like wind and solar.  According to the Energy Information Administration, for the first time in history a majority of the new power added to our national grid has come from renewables. Likewise, when combined the solar and wind renewable energy sectors provide 3 times as many jobs nationally as coal (Solar/Wind 475,000 jobs for Coal:160,000).

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Supporters of groundbreaking new technologies, which renewables are a part of, should find solace while taking stock of New Jersey’s energy landscape. NJ is a big player in renewables, solar specifically. In terms of total energy generation, NJ is fourth in the nation. Likewise, it is second, behind only California, when measuring the amount of solar installations on schools. We’re also ranked as one of the leading states in supportive regulatory policy and incentives coordinated by the Board of Public Utilities.

Hundreds of thousands of businesses, homes, and municipalities have already adopted solar. The reasoning is clear: at a time when many are still feeling the effects of the economic downturn, solar saves money. This is a fact that any business executive, tax-paying homeowner, and prudent public official understand. There’s additional reasons to move toward solar. In 2016 NJ was ranked 9th in the nation for jobs related to solar. Adopting solar only supports this type of job growth. Regardless of one’s stance on environmental protection, countless studies show that reducing carbon dioxide is a public safety benefit.

Bloomfield Citizens Solar Campaign

It’s this context in which the Bloomfield Citizen Solar Campaign (BCSC), a citizen group dedicated to raising awareness about the benefits of solar on public buildings, was formed. On September 25th, they attended a town council meeting lauding the council for its initial steps to investigate solar, but stressed that such an investigation should be comprehensive. They also purchased a table at Bloomfield Harvest-Fest on October 7th where they collected over 500 signatures of support. Their next event will be held at the Civic Center (84 Broad Street) in Bloomfield at 7pm where they will be sharing information about Bloomfield’s solar potential as well as how other towns have benefitted from installing solar.

Their message was and still is clear: the largest potential installation sites aren’t on municipal buildings, rather public schools, which the BOE, not the town council, has jurisdiction over. However, this does not have to be a barrier. It can be an opportunity for our newly elected council and BOE members to demonstrate to their citizens that in a time of political conflict, collaboration is not only key but possible.

How can this be done? The township of Secaucus is instructive. Instead of issuing two separate Request for Proposals (RFP), one from the town council and one from the BOE, they issued what is called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which allowed the town to save money by grouping together multiple solar sites, creating an economy of scale. Said simply, if you were to buy 90 eggs, would you buy 15 six-packs of eggs, or would you buy one 90 pack?

Ariel view of the parking solar canopy installed at the Municipal Court in Secaucus (source: Google Maps).

 

Important Questions and Considerations

You might by wary of having to spend more money on a solar analysis to find out how much energy our schools use and how much each could produce, which would reveal our true savings. But no worries! Such studies have already been conducted in 2011 and 2015. They’re publicly available at the BPU website. Here’s the link if you want to check them out: http://www.njcleanenergy.com/commercial-industrial/programs/local-government-energy-audit/completed-reports. The reports demonstrated clearly that if a comprehensive solar strategy was pursued, each building would, on average displace half of its electricity usage.  

You may also be thinking that some of school’s roofs are too old to support solar. You’d be right. This is why covered parking canopy installations are a great option. They create multiple benefits for a given space. Teachers and municipal staff now have covered parking, snow plowing and salting is decreased substantially, and there’s an opportunity to create charging stations for electric cars, which have been shown to increase spending at local businesses.

Finally, the most important question: what will this cost? There are so many issues and projects in the town, it’s understandable that one would not want to spend millions on solar. This is why what’s called a Power Purchase Agreement is a great option for financing. Municipalities have very little to no upfront costs, as the company owns the panels but sells the energy back at a reduced rate.

In addition to these, there are other questions regarding the process. If you’d like to know more about the questions raised above or have questions of your own, BCSC is hosting a presentation at the Bloomfield Civic Center at 7 pm, Room 1, on Thursday October 26th. If you can’t make it, you can stay updated or even get involved by visiting the BCSC facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Bloomfieldsolarnow/