NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The Borough Council postponed the authorization to request proposals for the Summit Speech School Solar Project at its Monday, Aug. 13 meeting as several council members requested clarifications regarding the legal and practical ramifications of the planned project.
The borough owns the building at 705 Central Avenue, where the Summit Speech School is located. The school would like to install solar panels on the roof of that building. Since the borough owns the building it has to initiate request for proposals (RFP) for the panel installation project, Council President Robert Munoz explained.
Councilman Michael Gennaro noted that the Summit Speech School has a long term lease on the property. We just went through the process of putting a new roof on the building, he said. He pondered why the borough has to get involved in the solar panel process? “Why can’t they just do this themselves,” he asked.
Borough Administrator Doug Marvin said that he has had numerous discussions about the issue with Borough Attorney Paul Rizzo. Under the public finance law the municipality owned building, if used by an outside entity, such as the solar application on the roof, requires that the borough has to bid the project under the local public contract law. The lease, which is in effect for another 25 years, prohibits the school from subletting the premises. Rizzo has researched the issue and concluded “that the borough did not have a choice as far as being able to sublet the project without a public bidding,” Marvin said. Rizzo had explained to Marvin “that municipality owned buildings have an exemption under the local public contracts law that allow the RFP process to be used specifically for acquisition of electric and solar services.”
“So in this particular case we looked at controlling this process through the municipality, so we would do the RFP. We would work with the Summit Speech School to get them the best price they could get for the solar, and then we would be in control of that project,” Marvin said. Another provision of this lease is that any associating operating cost of leased space is payable by the tenant. Therefore, the school would be responsible paying any electricity cost for the project, he added. “I would like to have an amendment to that lease that specifically addresses the payment of the solar services through this project,” he stated.
“Are we sure we want to get involved in this?” Gennaro asked. “The track record of these solar entities being viable long term businesses is not great,” he said. “How are you going to qualify these bidders? You may end up with somebody that works great 3-5 years but then suddenly falls off from the face of the earth,” Gennaro said.
Marvin explained that he has seen some of the numbers of what the school will be able to achieve in energy savings with the solar panels. “They are talking a significant reduction of their kilowatt cost guaranteed for 20 year period of time,” Marvin said. If the borough owns the building and is in charge of the project why would the borough give away the benefit of the potential savings, Gennaro asked.
Marvin noted that if the speech school were to leave the property it might create a conflict with the solar company that has a contract with the tenant. Therefore it is better that the solar company has the contract with the borough which owns the property. “What would happen is the borough sells the property?” Councilman Gary Kapner asked.
Marvin said that the speech school is pushing for a resolution to this issue, as school officials have researched it and concluded that there would be significant savings for the school from the installation of the solar panels.
Gennaro, a former board member of the Summit Speech School, noted that his questioning regarding the solar panels does not have anything to do with his appreciation for the Summit Speech School which provides valuable services to children with hearing impairments.