A letter dated July 16 sent to county and state officials from West Windsor Township requesting suspension of construction on Mercer County Community College’s 45-acre solar farm project has prompted the appearance of a new fact sheet about the project on the Mercer County Improvement Authority (MCIA) website, but residents living near the project site are not satisfied.
The letter, which was sent to Governor Chris Christie, County Executive Brian Hughes, Mercer County Improvement Authority Director Phillip Miller, and Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Commissioner Robert Martin, among others, was signed by Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh and Council President Kamal Khanna, and asks that construction on the project be stopped until hearings are held to address changes and factual discrepancies in the project.
The letter mentions residents were told the panels would be installed no closer than 300 feet from residents’ properties, but plans now show panels about 50 feet from properties.
In a fact sheet dated July 25, the Mercer County Improvement Authority includes a map of the final location of the solar project and states that panels will be placed 75 feet from the nearest house on Old Trenton Road, and 233 feet from the nearest residence on South Post Road. The document states, “The final location of the Solar Project was impacted by a variety of issues including permitting and regulatory issues.”
The fact sheet also responds to misgivings expressed in the letter from the township over solar renewable energy credit (SREC) values. The letter states, “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.”
MCIA’s response to concerns over the SRECs value points to new legislation signed into law by Governor Chris Christie that artificially boosts the demand for and price of SRECs.
The letter from the township also questions SunLight General’s experience in dealing with ground-mounted solar panels, but MCIA states that SunLight General is a finance company and does not perform construction. The sheet states, “SunLight’s partner, MasTec, Inc., is a $3 billion construction company with over 80 years of experience building energy, utility, and infrastructure projects, including wind and solar projects (both roof and ground-mounted).”
The fact sheet does not address flooding and drainage issues, which are mentioned briefly as an area of concern in the letter from the township.
Mercer County Communications Director Julie Willmot said the letter from the township was written because residents had unanswered questions regarding the solar project, and added that the new information provided by the MCIA dealt with those.
“The Improvement Authority has since answered those questions,” Willmot said.
West Windsor residents, including South Post Road resident Teresa Lourenco, are unsatisfied, pointing out that telling residents the truth about things like how close the panels are to properties doesn’t change the fact that the college went back on their word to residents.
“It is more than just answers to questions,” Lourenco said. “It is all the changing facts to the project. The Mercer County Improvement Authority and the Mercer County Community College are not being accountable or responsible to what they have previously promised the residents.”
The MCIA may have answered some questions, Lourenco said, but that doesn’t make them trustworthy.
The MCIA website, Lourenco said, states that runoff from the solar project will not drain into Lake Mercer. However, documents submitted to the NJDEP show the site draining into two swales, which merge and then drain into Lake Mercer, Lourenco said.
“It is a simple answer and one they completely botched,” Lourenco said. “What other environmental issues – such as storm water runoff, lack of vegetation and severe compaction of soils – are they clueless about?”