E. Marlborough unveils new solar panels

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Install at municipal complex a public/private partnership; will lock in power rates for 25 years

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

The new solar panels — built over existing parking — at the East Marlborough municipal complex are up and running after being formally dedicated Monday night.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — It’s official: the township is engaged in an out-and-out power grab.

Before you panic, the only victims might be the sun and maybe PECO as the township formally unveiled its new solar array, built over the parking lot of the municipal building, Monday night. The new array should collect at least half of the municipal building’s power needs, with the energy cost locked in for the next 25 years, no small savings with deregulation expected to spike power rates in coming years.

“The energy is provided at a guaranteed rate that will not increase for the next 25 years,” township Board of Supervisors chair Cuyler Walker said. “At no cost to the township, we think that’s a pretty good deal.”

The panels were built by township-based Tangent Energy Solutions, which also put together the financing for the project and stands to profit from it, while the township needed to make no investment and will have zero maintenance costs during the 25-year agreement. The new array is limited to about to pulling in half of the municipal complex’s needs (roughly 24,000 kilowatt hours — KWh), largely because the area is on a residential PECO power trunk (should the township upgrade to dedicated, commercial-style service, the arrays could be expanded to collect virtually all of the township’s power needs).

East Marlborough Board of Supervisors Chair Cuyler Walker talks about the details of the township's new solar energy system as Dean Musser (left), CEO of Tengent Energy Solutions, which built and will operate the system, looks on.

And of course, the installation offers environmental benefits. The power generated by the means just under 37,000 pounds of CO2 will not be generated — roughly equivalent, company officials say, to recycling six tons of material instead of sending it to the landfill, each year the system is in operation.

Still, even with the structural limits, the township stands to lock in savings over the term of the deal, essentially putting speed bumps on likely PECO rate hikes over the next two-plus decades.

Although this is the first such installation in the Unionville area, company officials say they hope it will lead to others — and maybe some larger projects, both to increase green power generation and potentially save money for taxpayers.

“Even though this is a small project, it sets a great example for schools, businesses and other municipalities on the use of clean, on-site generation to improve their overall energy situation” said Dean Musser, CEO of Tangent Energy Solutions — and a township resident.  “As corporate and individual residents of the township, we’re all proud of leadership demonstrated by our local officials.”

In addition to the solar arrays — which have been reportedly mistaken for a new carport by some township residents — the entire system can be monitored from a touchscreen display in the lobby of the municipal building. In addition to allowing residents to get a good sense of how well the system is working, it also allows township employees a chance to see in real-time how much power is being used, something likely to make the staff more conscious of use, Township Manager Jane Laslo noted.

An interactive touch panel in the lobby of the township's municipal building can tell residents — and staff — the whole story about how much power is being generated and how much is being used at a given moment.

Tangent, based in the township, put together a financing and grant package to pay for the design and construction of the panels and will then resell the power from it to the township at the same rate charged today by PECO. Tangent’s profit comes from the differential from operating costs and the current power rate and the resale of Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) — a specific credit for solar generation sold to power companies on the basis of 1,000 KWh. The commonwealth requires power companies to generate a specific amount of power annually — either by generation or by purchasing SRECs.

Musser said the panels will work in virtually all weather conditions — and even most snowfall won’t be an issue as the panels tend to keep a bit warmer than the ambient air temperature. Tangent will perform regular cleaning and maintenance work on the panels to keep them in peak operating condition.

And while the township is getting its “green” on, township officials spent time Monday night refining an ordinance that would provide for installation of solar panels and some wind generation devices on residential properties — although the latter will likely be limited to parcels of 25 acres or larger. The ordinance is coming up for public hearing on Nov. 7.

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