Morris Solar Project to be Topic at DOE Meeting

The Morris County Improvement Authority’s award winning renewable energy project will be one topic on the agenda this week at the U. S. Department of Energy’s annual Solar American Cities meeting in Philadelphia.

Freeholder Director William Chegwidden and MCIA Counsel Stephen B. Pearlman accepted an invitation to detail the financial structure of the county’s solar project as members of a Thursday morning panel.

The Solar American Cities meeting is the primary opportunity for DOE’s 25 Solar American Cities and national solar experts to come together and share best practices and present new ideas.

According to Chegwidden, the meeting’s organizers want to learn more about how the county financed the project, which installed nearly 14,000 solar panels at locations in five school districts and several county government facilities.

“Morris is the first to finance and complete the installations through the public-private project known as the Morris Model, providing the county with 3.2 MW in clean solar energy and more than $3.8 million in savings,” Chegwidden said. “We’ll explain to the meeting’s attendees exactly how we did it.”

The Morris Model is a collaborative effort on the part of the Improvement Authority, California-based solar energy provider Tioga Energy and installation contractor SunDurance Energy, Chegwidden said.

The Improvement Authority in 2010 issued $21.6 million in low-interest government bonds guaranteed by the county, which has a AAA rating, to finance the project, Chegwidden said.

As the developer, Tioga owns, operates and maintains the solar installations and sells the electricity produced by the systems to the participating schools and government agencies at a fixed rate that is approximately 35 percent lower than the existing retail price for energy, for the duration of a 15-year power purchase agreement, Chegwidden said.

In addition to the low cost bond financing, Tioga Energy utilized New Jersey state incentives available through the sale of solar renewable energy certificates as well as federal income tax incentives not available to the county as a public entity, offsetting significant portions of total project costs.

“The initiative is financed by the Improvement Authority, the bonds are guaranteed by the county and no debt service or out-of-pocket expenses are incurred by the local entities,” Chegwidden said.

Phase two of the Morris Model got underway earlier this month with 12 additional participants.

Additional information about the renewable energy initiative may be obtained by calling the Morris County Improvement Authority at 973-285-6020.