Gems May get solar panels

If installed, township will get tax credits, mayor says
By Kamala Lane; Correspondent

In order to receive investment tax credits from the state by the year's end, the Gloucester Township council must come to a decision regarding the possible installment of solar panels around the GEMS landfill, according to Gloucester Township Mayor Cindy Rau-Hatton.If approved, the $40 million proposal, introduced by Washington D.C. developer Dale Barnhard, could also bring grants and rebates to institutions benefiting from the solar energy. According to Barnhard, there is still time for the township to reap the benefits of saving energy in the community before the tax credits expire in January 2009.

"We can do a project in six months," he said. "Our goal is to have it built by the end of the calendar year, but council must approve the ground lease quickly."

As principal of Manpro International U.S LLC, or MIUS, LLC, a company that specializes in gathering permits and contracts necessary for development, Barnhard approached the township about installing solar panels on GEMS to generate energy to be sold to businesses, including Camden County College.

"It's an appropriate site for solar power because you can't use it for anything else," said Barnhard. "We should turn it into economical land. We could supply the college with renewable power, then the college could offer courses in renewable power."

Rau-Hatton referred to the possible development as a "win, win, win" situation.

"GEMS is an environmental nightmare and with the solar energy, it can be environmentally friendly and positive for us," she said.

Under the agreement between MIUS, LLC and the township, the land would be leased to the developer, which would then sell the energy out to the public.

Another goal that Barnhard is trying to reach as a result of the project is to generate Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) from the state. An SREC is issued when a solar electric system generates 1 megawatt of electricity. The certificate can then be sold as a simple way for businesses to invest in solar energy.

After discussing the proposal during talks with council members, Rau-Hatton stated that she'd rather forego having to investigate ways for the township to finance the project. She believes that the job would be too difficult and time consuming for the township.

"It's too big of a venture to go through the entire process," she said. "Time is ticking here because a lot of these tax incentives and energy projects will be expiring. To float a $40 million bond would increase our debt."

Rau-Hatton also acknowledged the need to hire engineers and an attorney should the township pursue the job without the involvement of the developer.

In the meantime, the mayor's office has contacted the Environmental Protection Agency and is awaiting a response. The EPA must approve any legalities and ordinances in order for Barnhard to move forward.