Monroe solar initiative turns on first panels at MUA

Project also comprises school board and township council

Solar Field constructed near the Municipal Utility Alliance building. This solar field will be turned on this week and allow the building to run from cheaper solar energy.

The Monroe Township Joint Solar Initiative connected its first solar field to the Municipal Utilities Authority building the week of March 21.

The initiative is made up of the Monroe Township School Board, the MUA and the township council. It started last year to help the town hold the line on taxes. A partnership was created with Trina Solar, of San Jose, California, which agreed to build solar fields on capped landfills as well as create solar panels and canopies across the township. In return, the township will receive power from those fields for the lowest rate in New Jersey and with no burden on taxpayers.

“You are going to find throughout municipalities, they have a mindset of keeping the lights on,” said Council President Patrick O’Reilly. “They don’t think outside the box in finding truly nontraditional ways to help the taxpayers and the budgets. We have spent numerous hours over the last two years on this program to make sure it flourishes.”

“It is hard, keeping a team like this together with three different legal entities,” he added. “It is hard to bring three businesses together and stay together and agree we are going to stay together as a community and be a leader in this town. It’s not easy.” 

The first solar field constructed near the MUA building was turned on last week. It will allow the building to run on cheaper solar power. The same goes for new solar canopies that will be installed in the parking lot of the municipal building.

“If you go to town hall, you are going to be parking under the solar field in a canopy,” O’Reilly explained. “In a few weeks, we are moving to the Monroe Township Public Library. That will also be a parking lot canopy design which people can go park under. We are using existing space … The schools are a little further out because they are so massive in design. There is so much that goes into those sites.”

Although solar panels at the schools are a ways away, the plans have already allowed the district to continue funding capital projects even though it lost approximately $1.9 million in state funding.

“In years past, it would have been a catastrophe. We would have had to cut programs, cut jobs; it would have been a mess,” said board of education President Frank Torcasio. “When you aren’t raising taxes and aren’t getting funding, the first thing that gets affected is facilities. Now we are moving in the direction of doing all these repairs and upgrades in our boiler and roofs and chillers and all that. It is really helping us.”

According to O’Reilly, Monroe Township taxes have not increased in about four  years. He expressed hope that the unconventional approach of solar fields will keep a tax increase at bay. Phase 2 of the project is currently in the planning and discussion process.

“As our Joint Solar Initiative continues into what we have coined Phase 2, we will be expanding our research and discussions with professionals in the industry on the possibility of community solar,” O’Reilly noted.

“Community Solar is a program that exists in the United States, but is still in the infancy stage here in New Jersey. The theory behind community solar is to give property owners the ability to sign up and receive their electricity through a solar facility when they do not have the ability to install solar directly on their property.”