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Library Solar Project Will Produce 38 Percent of Power

Planning Board conditionally approves plan, while company behind project said it won't cost the town or the library a dime.

Making the Parsippany Free Public Library more energy-efficient was the centerpiece of a discussion during Monday's Planning Board meeting at Town Hall. 

Attorney Michael Beck, representing Power Partners Master LLC, was on hand to talk about the long-discussed plan to install solar panels at the libary's main branch.

Beck said the project, a joint effort of the Morris County Improvement Authority and Sunlight General Capital, will produce about 180 kilowatts of clean, green energy, which translates to roughly 38 percent of the energy consumed by library use (equivalent to the power it would take to charge 27 automobiles. This, Beck said, will save the library money and reduce its carbon footprint.

According to the attorney, the plan gives the library a green-friendly makeover—and significant cost savings—at no cost to the township or the county. Beck said the project's initial financing is paid for through Morris County's issuance of 15-year solar energy bonds, and that the panels are owned by the Improvement Authority and leased to Sunlight General Capital for the same price as the bond payment amounts.

As Beck put it, the plan boils down to "no money out of the country's pocket and zero dollars out of the township's pocket."

"We're bringing solar to local units such as the public library, giving them green energy, which saves them money, and it doesn't cost them anything," he said. "The township has no cost expenditure on this at all."

Board Chair Kaushik "Casey" Parikh asked if there would be any maintenance cost with the project.

"No," said Beck. "Sunlight General Capital will be responsible for the maintenance of everything."

Engineer Ron Igneri of Innovative Engineering in Wall Township explained details of the site plan, which covers the libary's six-acre parcel.

Igneri said the setup would include rooftop solar panels and a carport covered in panels that will sit over cars and the entranceway of the library.

Zoning Officer Jennifer Collins said that the rooftop plan has already received zoning approval and permits.

The rooftop installation will consist of panels held in place in a non-penetrating ballasted solar mounting system. According to Igneri the system is effective in wind speeds in as high as 120 miles per hour.

"None of the panels have come out," he said. "It's proven 100 percent reliable."

He also said the life expectancy of the solar panels is about 20-25 years.

The engineer added that the library's roof was approved in terms of age and life expectancy and it has been assured that its warranties will remain in effect, meaning that any necessary repairs will not cost the library or the township anything.

Panels will also reside on top of a canopy 38 feet long that extends over cars and a portion of the library entrance, Igneri said. The carport, at its lowest point, would stand about 14 feet tall. 

"A tractor trailer could conceivably drive under the low side," he said.

Igneri added that the canopy isn't designed to provide 100 percent protection from rain.

"It's assembled with a space between, so rain and snow drip through," he said. "It's just a support for the panels and it would provide significant shade for cars."

He said the carport setup will not affect traffic circulation in the lot and will not necessitate the removal of any parking spaces.

The entire system will be monitored remotely and inspected "every couple of weeks," said the engineer, noting that it will include a weather station so that people can expect just how much energy will produced based on how much sunshine is predicted on a given day.

Igneri explained that the solar panels will collect the sun's energy and produce DC power, which travels into an inverter that turns the energy into usable AC power.

Asked about how loud the system would be, Igneri reassured the board.

"Noise is easy," he said. "They don't make a whole lot, about the equivalent of a car idling when you stand next to it."

He added that the solar system is fully compliant with township and state Department of Environmental Protection noise regulations.

Igneri said the site plan for the solar project was reviewed by township officials and library representatives.

"We used their guidance to configure it," he said.

Because the library population includes wetlands, Igneri said many of the trees cannot be cut back or pruned to reduce shade.

"We do have a landscaping plan," Igneri said. "Five old oak trees on Halsey Toad are coming out. They are old, portions of them are dying."

He said Alberta, Serbian and dwarf red spruce trees will be planted along the front of the library to beautify the space while allowing sunlight to reach the solar panels.

The engineer added that parking lot lighting will be modified.

Board Planner Edward Snieckus of Burgis Associates indicated a concern of light making the canopy refective. He asked for more downward lighting, and Igneri said that shouldn't be a problem.

Roberta Chopko, president of the library's Board of Trustees, said there were concerns about the project. She said that James Walsh, who heads the township's Parks and Forestry Department, is concerned about the removal of the oak trees.

According to Chopko, Walsh had recommended re-planting with ornamental trees rather than varieties of spruce.

"The [just-passed] storm took out a large number of pines," she said. "They're shallow-rooted. I'm not sure [the spruce trees are] the best choice."

She asked Beck and Igneri to contact Walsh to discuss how the tree issue should be handled.

Chopko also said she was worried about snow plowing.

"Town employees will be plowing that lot and [walsh] admitted that sometimes they aren't too careful,"she said. "If, in plowing, [the canopy] is damaged, whose responsibility is it?"

"The library and the township have no financial role, ever, for initiating the program or maintaining it," said Igneri.

The Planning Board ultimately voted unanimously to endorse the solar panels plan, subject to consultation with Parks and Forestry, approval from the fire chief and a lighting plan.

In other news, the board, including Mayor James Barberio and Town Council member Michael dePierro, voted to table consideration of a proposed amendment to the township zoning law until the Parsippany Master Plan is re-evaluated next year.

Robert Simpson November 21, 2012 at 01:28 PM
I am still waiting for someone to submit their energy cost for the year without without solar panels and the yearly cost with solar panels. The peak output which is always stated only last for an instant on one particular sunny day of the year.
Stephanie November 29, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Only 38% of the power is insufficient; should be 98% like other companies.
EdC December 03, 2012 at 06:55 AM
The problem is that the deal is "lease to own" for SGC. Once the lease is ended (in 15 years), they own the panels, then they'll probably charge everyone rent for using the panels, the power it provides, and/or the removal if we elect to not continue after the lease (for at 10 more years, the expected life of the panels). As for the 38% power, their claim is that that's all they could fit on the property. And the thrust is not to save on energy costs - it's throwing money at some pork purchase of solar panels, with no ability at the time to install them. BTW, that lease is basically an interest-free loan for SGC.
clyde donovan December 03, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Who do you think will benefit from this solar Plan? SGC or the people of the Township of Parsippany? If you answered "the people of the Township of Parsippany," would you ike to invest with my friend Bernard Madoff? You can make a lot of money!
Stephanie December 05, 2012 at 06:47 AM
Good point! This does not sound like a wise investment.

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