Speakers advocate for solar panels at Bloomfield municipal and school district buildings

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A public forum on solar energy attracted a handful of environmental activists to the Civic Center on Tuesday, Sept. 27, to hear four speakers. The forum, according to one speaker, was scheduled to take advantage of the hopes raised by the recent approval of a bipartisan federal bill, the Inflation Reduction Act. The legislation earmarks $369 billion to diminish fossil fuel use. 

The first speaker was Satenik Margaryan, a former Bloomfield Board of Education candidate. Her platform when she was a candidate included the need to install solar panels on school buildings. At the forum, her intent was unchanged.

“It’s not just the money we would save when we talk about solar,” she said. “If the schools have solar, students can be taught its importance.”

Solar energy, she said, could also encourage students to consider solar energy for study and employment. Money the school district saved by converting to solar could be redirected to students and teachers, another benefit, she said.

The second speaker was Jane Califf, who, along with her husband, environmentalist Ted Glick, is a well-known Bloomfield activist. She provided information about N.J. school districts that have installed solar panels. Her source, she said, was Schneider Electric, an energy management company that had case studies. According to Califf, each district was projected to save on its energy bills.

“This is why we haven’t given up on our effort since 2016,” she said.

That effort, she said, was advanced by the Bloomfield Citizens Solar Campaign, a group she helped form, to publicize the benefits of solar panels on suitable Bloomfield schools and township buildings.

“No matter what we did, nothing happened,” she said.

But a PowerPoint presentation in 2017, she said, prompted the town council to hire Greener by Design, an energy planning company, to do an assessment determining which school and municipal buildings could feasibly add solar panels. 

The report, which is public, identified the Bloomfield Municipal Building, the school district administration building and all 11 public schools as feasible sites. Califf said this would provide substantial savings in energy costs. These savings would be established in a Solar Power Purchase Agreement. 

According to a United States Environmental Protection Agency website, an SPPA is a financial agreement between a company or provider installing the solar panels and the owner or host of the site where the panels are installed. 

The host agrees to purchase electricity from the provider for a specific time period. The price of the electricity can be fixed but often increases by 1 to 5 percent annually.

“SPPA arrangements can be cash-flow positive for the host customer from the day the system is commissioned,” according to the EPA.

Glick was the third speaker and said the Inflation Reduction Act was a positive development on the federal level that he hopes attracts investments in renewable energy. He also said the IRA could create a significant number of jobs over the next 10 years. The bill, he added, contains a tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles.

“The bill has to be built upon,” he said. “This is an argument we can make to the schools: The country is moving in this direction — why not you?”

The Rev. Susan Dorward, of the Brookdale Reformed Church, spoke last. In 2016, her church installed solar panels.

“I don’t understand why the people in Bloomfield government aren’t running with this,” she said.

Dorward recalled when she first came to the church to assume her pastorship. She was outside writing and noticed the sun on the church roof. She said she was writing about the conversion of Saul, later St. Paul, who had a deep hatred of Christians, when he heard the voice of Jesus ask, “Why, why are you persecuting me?” But Dorward displaced a word.

“I heard, ‘Why, why are you killing me,’” she said. “I was thinking of our precious earth.”

Since installing the panels, Dorward said, her church has saved $43,000 on electricity.

“I don’t know why the township isn’t grasping this,” she said. “When we went solar, we started contacting other churches and got 11 to go solar. It started with us.”

She said in 2020, because of the pandemic, her church was unoccupied, but the panels still produced electricity. The unused electricity was sent to the power grid. 

“PSE&G paid us a nice, tiny sum,” she said. “We were sucking up electricity, and it’s the same with the schools. They’re closed during the summer.”

As for getting others to add solar panels, according to Dorward, “We just have to continue being pains in the neck.”

In a telephone interview following the forum, Margaryan said she was optimistic the schools would eventually go solar.

“I just want to get there sooner,” she said.

Author: systems