Solar Projects to Save Bridgewater Nearly $6M
County plans projects at six locations around town.
With carport solar panels already completed at the Bridgewater Senior Center and the Bridgewater Township Library, the township and county are moving forward with six more solar projects throughout the township.
The projects will be at the TD Bank Ballpark, the Bridgewater Central Maintenance Facility, the Bridgewater-Raritan High School, the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School, the Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School and the municipal building.
All locations will have the canopies over existing parking spaces, according to engineer Michael Thomas, with Innovative Engineering. They will be a little more than 14 feet above the ground, he said, and they will also have a snow stopper to prevent any extra snow from falling off the panel and onto passing vehicles or people.
In addition, Thomas said, there will be inverters at all the sites, but they will give out minimal noise, basically the sound of a car vehicle passing by—and the sound will only be made when the sun is out and energy is being taken in by the panels.
“The noise is comparable to a vehicle that was just turned on,” he said. “It is not even the sound of it moving, just standing still.”
“The inverters being proposed, a few have a maximum height of 8 feet tall, located on concrete pads with a chain link fence surrounding them,” he added. “They take electricity from the solar panels themselves.”
This project is being done through the county’s Improvement Authority, which is handling the costs. This work is being done at no cost to the township itself.
“This is for solar around the community,” said township engineering manager Tom Forsythe. “This is the second round for the community after the senior center and library.”
As for the projects themselves, the panels will only be running during daytime hours when the sun is out, Thomas said, so when the sun goes down, they won’t generate electricity.
“This is a net-metered project,” said Ronald Igneri, of Innovative Engineering. “On a weekday, when the lights are on and the sun is out, the meter slows down because the first place we grab the electricity is the solar panels.”
“For example, if the library is closed on Sunday afternoon, the meter will be functioning, but it will move backward and there will be credits for that solar energy because the lights are out,” he added. “We cannot exceed the generation on an average annual basis otherwise it cannot be a net-metered project.”
The first project, Forsythe said, is at the municipal complex, in the police parking lot between the building and the turf field. He said there will be four solar arrays in the parking lot.
These arrays, Forsythe said, will take care of 30 percent of the electricity for the building, just short of 300 kilowatts.
“These are public improvement projects,” he said.
Township engineer Robert Bogart said he is just concerned about the protection over the police vehicles.
“I don’t want a complaint after the fact,” he said. “If they can unload the vehicles without a torrent rushing down on them or the trunk, that is OK, but we need an assurance of that.”
Thomas said there are spaces in between the panels for small drops, so there will not be a large sheet of water flowing on those walking beneath them to their vehicles.
“It doesn’t allow stormwater to pass through,” he said.
At the Central Maintenance Facility, Thomas said, there are 10 arrays being proposed at the rear of the maintenance facility, with each being about 43.3 feet in height. The inverter, he said, will be at the south of the arrays.
This project will handle 60.71 percent of the buildings annual energy consumption.
Stephen Goodbody, with Sunlight General, said that the company is contractually obligated to provide a certain amount of energy each year.
“If we have downtime on the system [because an inverter breaks], we pay money to offset the underproduction,” he said. “We’re guaranteeing the system. And we designed the systems carefully to make the inverter able to be replaced very quickly.”
“We’re paying each time if the system goes down,” he added.
The third project is at the Bridgewater-Raritan High School, which will have three arrays in the teacher’s parking lot off Garretson Road, and which cover 10.28 percent of the building’s energy consumption.
Igneri said the array is being put there because of the existing conditions and the fact that the panels need to face south.
“That northeast portion has a south-facing parking arrangement, as opposed to others that are east and west and wouldn’t get as much sun,” he said. “And in the smaller lot [in the back] there were topography issues, there is a hill near the parking lot and that could be a hassle with the kids running around.”
Some planning board members questioned whether the inverter could be moved away from its planned position where it could be seen from the road.
“Maybe on the street side, we could look into landscaping since it’s at the entrance to the school,” said planning board member Janine Dickey when the project was explained to the board at a recent meeting.
Igneri said they don’t want to surround the inverter with dense trees because of the possibility of preventing air circulation, but they would look into additional landscaping.
At the middle school, Thomas said, they are working on two separate arrays, one in the existing maintenance parking yard and another in an existing parking lot. No parking will be eliminated as the canopies will be overhead.
The project will cover 16.9 percent of the energy consumption.
TD Bank Ballpark is one of the larger projects planned, with arrays one through five on the east side of the site, and arrays six and seven in another parking lot off the building.
“And these are all above the 100-year flood plain,” Thomas said, noting that flooding has been an issue at the stadium recently.
A total of 91.4 percent of the stadium’s energy consumption will be handled by the project.
Finally, at the Vo-Tech, there will be six arrays, all laid out in an order to ensure that they are facing a southern direction and will get the most sun exposure, covering 18.9 percent of the building’s energy consumption.
“This parking lot is more steeply sloped than the others,” Thomas said.
The project as a whole, as done through the county, has a 15-year power purchasing agreement, and those years will include guaranteed energy rates and savings throughout each town. Over the 15 years, it is expected to save the county about $12.5 million in energy costs.
In Bridgewater alone, residents are looking at a savings of $5.6 million in energy costs, with $300,000 saved in the first year the canopies are up and running.
At the end of the 15 years, Sunlight General can remove the canopies from all the properties, and the company has already put aside $375,000 in a restoration fund to do so.
“A typical life span of the canopies is 25 years, and it needs very little maintenance,” Thomas said. “They are passive installations, and they don’t need to be monitored on a regular basis.”
At the end of the 15-year agreement—according to Jess Vogel with Birdsall Services Group, the consultant for the county—Bridgewater has the option to purchase the canopies itself, or the county can opt to renew the purchasing agreement.
“Or we could just take them down, and it will be done at no cost to the township,” she said.
The goal for all the projects is to have them up and running within the year, possibly a little longer for the ballpark, which was the last project to be included.
During the contractor work, Igneri said, some sections of parking will be closed, but it will not be widespread.
“We will not be shutting down entire lots,” he said. “We will be sectioning areas off. But the site will be maintained as functional.”
The planning board was not required to approve the project, only to agree that it is consistent with the township’s master plan.
“I think where it is being placed adjacent to the highways so it is not within the site of residences or major residential developments [is good],” said councilman Filipe Pedroso. “I support the project.”