Solar panels may soon appear on the campus of St. Benedict Catholic Church and School, located on the corner of Bethany and Hillcrest Roads in Holmdel.
The parish and parochial school has entered into a 15-year solar power purchase agreement with 1st Light Energy of South Plainfield which has been contracted to install a 265-kilowatt solar panel array on empty fields behind the school, and to the roof of one of the school wings.
Instead of purchasing power at an average of $.15 cents per kilowatt from its current provider JCP&L, St. Benedict will purchase it at $.09 cents per kilowatt, through 1st Light Energy, with a 3 percent escalator.
"The bottom line is that the power purchase agreement (PPA) has not only reduced costs by more than 30%, it will effectively eliminate the cost of our electricity over 15 years with the PPA because we will be able to share in its financial benefits," said St. Benedict Parish Administrator Catherine Warshaw, who has been working on the plan for the past three years.
The power purchase agreement includes a payout of $100,000 to St. Benedict once the system is commissioned, and a share in the solar renewable energy credits (SREC) over the life of the power purchase agreement. The check will be delivered within 90 days of when the system will be turned on, which could be this summer.
St. Benedict is anxiously waiting on two permits and inspections from Holmdel Township this week. The authorizations must be completed before a Feb. 25 deadline, or St. Benedict will lose their financing, said Warshaw.
Five hundred and six solar panels will be installed in 11 groups in the rear of the school, on part of St. Ben's undeveloped 22-acre property. Four hundred and twenty nine solar panels will be placed on the roof of the third school wing, in the rear of the complex. Evergreens will be planted along Bethany Road to hide ground mounted solar panels from view.
The solar power purchase agreement with 1st Energy includes the replacement of the original 50-year old roof on the school's third wing.
The plan has the approval of the Catholic Diocese of Trenton, to which St. Benedict belongs.
St. Benedict School Principal Mary Ellen Lilly envisions the educational benefits for her 509 students in K-8th grade. "It will be like one big science project," she said.
And it has the blessing of Rev. Daniel Swift, who focuses on the spiritual life at St. Benedict Church. The parish has embarked on an ambitious capital campaign to expand its facility and outreach. "We need to make good use of our earthly resources," he said.