For County, Solar Power Means Lower Rates

Morris County, N.J., is getting discounted electricity – paying more than a third below the usual rate – thanks to a unique public-private solar power program comprising 19 installations at 16 public sites, according to the developer behind the project.

The program was financed with $22.3 million in low-interest government bonds issued by the Morris County Improvement Authority. Solar developer Tioga Energy owns and operates the solar installations, and sells the power generated from them back to schools and county agencies. As owner, Tioga receives one solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) from the state of New Jersey for each 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity generated. It can then sell these certificates – to utilities, for instance, which need them to meet the state’s renewable portfolio standard.

solar power project, Morris County, New Jersey

image via Morris County

According to Tioga, the installations have a generating capacity of 3.1 megawatts (MW). Much of the capacity is at the Mennen Sports Arena, where solar rooftop and parking canopy structures can yield up to 1.6 MW.

Tioga said that the financing arrangement is what makes it possible to sell the electricity at 35 percent below market rate. The company put the savings to the county at $3.8 million, but it wasn’t clear if that amount was to date (work on the first installation began in June 2010) or on an annual basis, or if it will come over the life of a 15-year power purchase agreement.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.