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Firm seeks approval for solar panels over CentraState parking lots

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – Testimony is expected to resume at 7 p.m. April 19 on an application that proposes the construction of a solar panel array over the parking lots at CentraState Medical Center, West Main Street.

Attorney Keith A. Davis represented the applicant, KDC Solar CSCP, LLC, at the March 15 meeting of the Freehold Township Planning Board when the proposal was unveiled for board members and the public.

KDC Solar is seeking preliminary and final major site plan approval from the board to construct and maintain a solar panel array for electricity generation consisting of approximately 12,360 panels and generating approximately 5.7 megawatts on canopies in, upon and above existing parking areas at Centra State Medical Center, according to the application.

Davis said the medical center will use the proposed generating facility for electricity consumption in a power purchase agreement with KDC Solar. He said the agreement will reduce the medical center’s energy consumption costs.

KDC Solar is seeking “D” use variance relief for the proposed solar panel canopy accessory use. A solar canopy array is not a permitted use in the zone in which the hospital is located. The applicant is also seeking variance relief for the expansion of the non-conforming business use, variances for minimum front and side yard setbacks, maximum impervious coverage and for existing non-conforming conditions on site, according to Davis.

Testimony was presented by engineer Robert C. Moschello and planner Tiffany A. Morrissey on behalf of the applicant.

Moschello said the solar canopies are proposed at four significant locations on the medical center’s campus. No canopies are proposed directly in front of the hospital. He said four transformers will collect the energy from the four sections of solar canopies and route the power into the medical center’s electrical system.

Township Engineer Tim White has requested repairs be made to various areas of the medical center’s parking lots in conjunction with the construction of the solar canopies. Attorney William Mehr, representing CentraState, said the medical center’s operators have agreed to make those repairs.

Moschello said some light poles will be removed during construction and will be replaced with lighting on the underside of the solar canopies.

“The overall lighting impact around the facility will be improved,” he said.

Moschello said 160 trees in the medical center parking lots will be removed to construct the solar canopies, but 260 trees will be planted at various locations on the campus to make up for the trees that are removed. The engineer said the construction of the solar canopies would be completed in a phased plan and would take between nine months and one year to complete.

In brief testimony, Thomas P. Lynch, executive vice president and chief operating officer of KDC Solar, said his company will develop, own and operate the solar facilities. He said the firm has a license with the medical center to use the parking facilities and a power sales agreement to deliver the power generated by the solar arrays.

Regarding the solar power agreement with KDC Solar, Thomas W. Scott, senior vice president and chief operating officer of CentraState Medical Center, said, “We are looking for ways to become more green and economic. We want to reduce demand on the Freehold area electric grid, specifically during the summer to prevent the possibility of brownouts. We are trying to be proactive in reducing pollutants.”

Scott said if the solar canopies are permitted to be constructed, there will be no loss of parking spaces (not counting the loss of some spaces during construction) and he said there will be improved lighting in certain areas of the medical center’s campus.

During her testimony, Morrissey asked the board members to weigh positive and negative criteria associated with the proposal in deciding whether to grant the variance that would permit KDC Solar to construct the solar canopies. She said the state considers a solar facility to be “an inherently beneficial use as a renewable energy resource.”

Morrissey said landscaping will be added along West Main Street to screen the solar canopies, which will be about 14 feet tall, and she said landscaping will be added along the rear property line. A portion of the hospital zone abuts the Raintree residential community. She reiterated earlier testimony which indicated some outdated light standards will be removed from the hospital’s campus.

Morrissey said in her opinion, the board’s granting of a variance to permit the construction of the solar canopies “will not have a substantial impact on Freehold Township’s master plan or zoning ordinance. There will not be a substantial negative impact in expanding a non-conforming use.”

During public comment, one resident of Raintree asked if there would be any health risks associated with the transformers to be constructed as part of the solar energy project. Moschello said there are transformers on the hospital’s campus now and he said he was not aware of any health concerns related to that equipment.

Two hours of testimony concluded on March 15 and the board carried the application to its April 19 meeting.


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