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Solar Energy

Solar energy may not be the be all and end all of electrical power generation but it sure beats most of the alternatives.  It can be installed almost anywhere has a low maintenance cost and continues to give back for years.  Unlike coal, oil, gas and nuclear power plants, there is no pollution and has a very small carbon footprint.  It forces one to ask why these panels are not built into every roof in the community.  There is at least 1 proposal for integrating it into our highways and local roads.

The answer boils down to politics.  In the small community of Pemberton Borough, the town at one time generated and sold it's own electricity.  They now buy it wholesale and distribute it to the community using their own infrastructure.   The borough claims to have about 700 customers, which includes about 250 in the recently developed Hearthstone at Woodfield, an active adult community.  Residents pay between $0.178 and $0.194 per kilowatt hour.

Last October there was a push within the state to put Solar Cells on as many homes as possible.  What are SRECS?  These are Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, each certificate reflecting 1,000 kwh generated by a system.  The program is the New Jersey Renewable Energy Manufacturing Incentive (REMI).  Once your system is registered and tracking has started, the system owner receives the incentive monthly based on the number of Kilowatt Hours generated during that period.  The larger the system, the larger the monthly payment.

The normal cost of an installation of sufficient cells to provide 50% of the average power usage is on the order of $25,000.  Through a program being run by Trinity Solar and SunRun the same installation could be completed for approximately $2200.  Seem too good to be true?  Well it's not.  There is a conglomerate willing to fund the installation of solar cells on private residences.  The owner of the residence gets all the power generated by the cells but is not compensated for the power generated or flowing back into the grid.  The investors register the systems and collect the SRECS.  The installation includes, monitoring, maintenance and insurance for the installed system so there is never a cost for the home owner.

The alternative is to install the system outside of the investor group and collect the SRECS as well as the savings in power usage and credit for the power going back into the grid.  The downside of this is a very large price tag which may not be feasible for those on fixed incomes and not so much spare cash.  None the less it is a fantastic investment with a return on investment of under 5 years.   The period of saving in electricity lasts forever.   The income from SRECS will last for the next 15 years while the program is in effect. In this case your $25,000 investment returns better than $75,000 over the following 15 years and half of your electric bill is never seen.

Regardless of which way you go, this sounds like a really great deal.  For those of us with limited resources, working with the investors sounds like the thing to do.  And it is, except that we live in Pemberton Borough which resells electricity that it purchases at wholesale.  They are not happy about the loss of revenue if people start generating their own power and make it difficult for you to connect into the grid. 

It's difficult but not impossible as long as you purchase the system outright.  The town requires that two meters be installed, one to measure your power consumption from the grid and one to measure the power you contribute to the grid.  They have a monthly service charge which is applied to the bill which you pay regardless of how much you use from or contribute to the grid. 

The borough also requires an escrow of $3500 as part of the permitting process to cover the cost of reviewing the design and to cover any damage to their equipment the may be incurred when the system is installed.  Note that their fee is greater than the total installation fee when working with the investor group.  They claim that very little of that should be used and that the home owner should get it back.  What they don't tell you is when.  As it turns out if you cancel the application as I did, they keep the money for an additional month until the next scheduled meeting where the return of the funds can be approved.

The borough, however, would not cooperate with the investor group who required networked meters to monitor the system. The networked meters provide much more information about the system performance than does the simple two meter approach. Because the borough refused to interface with these meters the investor group would not do business with anyone living in the borough. 

Our neighbors in the Township are having an equally difficult time putting an array along North Pemberton Road in farm fields.  Roadblock after Roadblock has been erected, keeping their project from moving forward.  If we truly want to stimulate the economy, create jobs and build for the future, we would make solar much easier to install.  They are far less intrusive on our environment than are other projects like windmils.

The bi-laws at Hearthstone at Woodfield currently prohibit the installation of solar panels.  However due to the legislation that was completed several years ago, now association can prohibit the installation of solar panels