In a letter from West Windsor Township dated July 16 and signed by West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh and township council president Kamal Khanna, the mayor and council ask county and state officials to suspend construction of Mercer County Community College’s 45-acre solar farm project until questions can be answered and concerns addressed. The letter was sent to 11 state and county officials including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, County Executive Brian Hughes, Mercer County Improvement Authority Director Phillip Miller, and Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf.
Dear Governor Christie, Madam and Messrs:
The West Windsor Township Mayor and Council respectfully request that you require the Mercer County Community College (” MCCC”) and the Mercer County Improvement Authority MCIA”) to suspend construction of the 45- acre solar project at MCCC until new hearings are held that involve all parties, including nearby West Windsor residents, as to recent changes and factual discrepancies to the project.
Recent changes include a redesign of the project that was required by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (” NJDEP”) and possible adverse effects on the financing of the project – and its overall financial viability – due to the dramatic decline in Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (” SREC”) prices. The Mayor and Council of West Windsor believe that new hearings should take place as to the financial viability of the project which could adversely impact all of the residents of Mercer County, as the County has guaranteed the bonds on this questionable project. Additionally, the Mayor and Council are very concerned about the potential negative impact on the health, safety and welfare of the residents of West Windsor due to drainage and run-off issues related to the project.
It has been brought to the West Windsor Township Mayor and Council’ s attention that there appear to be factual discrepancies from the statements of the MCCC, MCIA and SunLight officials regarding this project. It was stated that the project would be at least a football field away from any residents’ homes; however, it now appears that the latest plans show solar panels as close as 50 feet from residents’ properties. SunLight General’s presentation at a recent residents’ meeting stated that $ 1. 97 million of principal payments are to be made each year until September 15, 2024. However, the bond offering says that these payments plus interest will continue until 2027. Discrepancies were also found from the presentation of SunLight General Chief Financial
Officer Stacey Hughes, who said at a recent meeting that a breakdown of revenue used to pay off the bond offering included 28% of the expected revenue is to come from a federal grant. As this grant has already been promised to pay off construction costs outside of the debt, residents question why it was being counted as revenue to pay off the bonds in a legal document. Ms. Hughes has responded that she was not referring to money for a separate tax benefit – accelerated depreciation” – but she said they are now also ” looking into it.” The MCIA website states that 28% of the revenue does come from accelerated depreciation. An explanation needs to be made as to how the project expects to capture this benefit and when.
SunLight General believes that SREC prices will be high enough to pay their debts. However, recent projections by SREC Trade as well as Bloomberg New Energy Finance under current legislation, as well as proposed legislation, show a shortfall during at least ten to fifteen years of the project’ s lifespan. The question now arises as to what SREC price forecasts are viable. Additionally, SunLight General has yet to provide information as to any other ground mounted systems it has constructed in the past, so that an evaluation can be made as to those projects’ impacts upon nearby properties.
The Mayor and Council continue to be concerned about the buffering of the project. The original project called for berming that would hide the project from both the residents and those who drove along Old Trenton Road. However, the berms have now been eliminated from the project and it is difficult to understand how the project would be hidden from sight through landscaping. This needs to be addressed to allay the fears of the nearby community.
The Mayor and Council of West Windsor look forward to a response to this letter and we seek immediate action to prevent this project from moving forward with so many unanswered questions. In light of the many recent changes to the project — not the least of which being its financial viability given the sharp decline in SREC values— it is our wish to see the questions of the community and its residents answered before construction commences. It is our view that given the many changes to the project and financial viability, that the project should go back before Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Mercer County Planning Board for another review, given the financial concerns.
Very truly yours,
Shing-Fu Hsueh, Mayor
Mayor Council President
Township of West Windsor Township of West Windsor