Westfield Council Opts Into Community Solar Initiative

By KATIE MOEN
For The Westfield Leader

WESTFIELD — The Westfield Mayor and Council voted Tuesday to opt into a statewide solar agreement that could save local residents hundreds of dollars per year in energy costs. In addition, Westfield Green Team member Lois Kraus said, the measure will help Westfield get one step closer to its goal of environmental sustainability.

“The Westfield Green Team has always been an advocate for solar power,” Ms. Kraus said. “This program allows Westfield residents who can’t install solar panels to purchase renewable energy, save money and help the environment.”

According to information provided by the New Jersey Clean Energy Program, community solar projects allow electric utility customers who have previously been unable to install solar panels due to cost, property restrictions or home ownership status to access power generated at an off-site location.

“The agreement will enable low- and moderate-income households and the environmental justice community greater access to clean energy and savings on their electricity bills. Community solar encourages local clean energy development that is tied to the communities without compromising the preservation of open space or protected lands in New Jersey,” an informational release by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities states.

The program works thanks to an agreement between local energy provider PSE&G and Solar Landscape, a New Jersey developer based in Asbury Park. The initiative will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis to all interested Westfield residents whether they rent or own their homes. Residents who choose to opt into the voluntary program will be eligible for income-based discounts on all future energy bills.

“Together, we are making clean energy history by opening access to solar power to everyone in New Jersey – especially our low- to moderate-income families,” said Solar Landscape co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Shaun Keegan in a statement on the company’s website. “We are pleased to build on the success of our existing community solar projects and I’m grateful for the continued collaboration with our partners in the commercial real estate, non-profit and government sectors. Thanks to community solar, we can continue to transition away from fossil fuels through clean energy and make it more affordable at the same time.”

By way of example, Westfield Green Team member Walter Korfmacher said, a participant who currently pays $225 per month to PSE&G would see his or her energy costs reduced to about $160 for the same usage in the same time period. Moderate- to low-income residents would see greater discounts thanks to the community solar plan, which seeks to make sustainable energy more affordable and accessible.

In addition, Westfield Council member David Contract said, anyone who decides to participate in the program will be eligible to receive a $100 Visa gift card. The town also will receive small monetary incentives for each participant that can be used for other sustainability initiatives around the community.

“There is really no downside to this,” Mr. Contract said. “It’s a great program and we’re all very excited about it.”

Westfield residents will also have the opportunity to get involved with the community solar program as hosts. According to information provided by Solar Landscapes, “a site host has available land that is well positioned to capture solar energy. The site may never have had a solar array or it may have additional square footage available adjacent to an existing array. A site host can partner with a developer and rent or sell the land used for the solar project.”

The mayor and council will release more information about the project as time goes on.

Tuesday night’s meeting was held virtually out of concern regarding the recent surge in Covid-19 transmissions.

In addition to moving forward with the community solar plan, the council voted to opt into a nationwide civil litigation suit against certain pharmaceutical companies and distributors connected to the opioid epidemic.

According to information provided by the National Office of the Attorney General, Johnson & Johnson will pay up to $5 billion over nine years, with up to $3.7 billion paid during the first three years. The total funding distributed will be determined by the overall degree of participation by both litigating and non-litigating state and local governments.

Westfield Town Administrator James Gildea said that while there is no way to know how much of the settlement could be awarded to Westfield, opting into the settlement represents an important step forward in the fight against addiction. Any funds secured throughout the process will be earmarked for rehabilitation and preventive services at the local level.

The council also unanimously voted to recommend three local properties — a coffee kiosk at the South Avenue Train Station; a residence at 23 Stoneleigh Park; and a pre-Revolutionary War structure at 112 Ferris Place — to the planning board for historic designation. The coffee kiosk, one of the oldest of its kind in the country, will be re-opened under new management next week.

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