HAMMONTON —  Officials broke ground Friday on a new solar project that should provide 95 percent of the electricity needed to run the town’s wastewater treatment plant and save 20 percent on the plant’s energy bills for the next 15 years.

Construction will start next week and be complete in about six months, said John Barrier, cq of Hudson County-based Barrier Electric, the prime contractor.

The ground-mounted 842.16 kilowatt system is being built on 9.3 acres across Pleasant Mills Road from the treatment plant. There will be 76 rows of panels, with an average row length of 240 feet.

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The site had housed the former plant, but for years has been used as a storage site, said cq Jerome Barberio, the business administrator and public works manager. He said the plant’s electric bills have been in excess of $100,000 a year, and the agreement will save Hammonton about $24,000 a year, or about $360,000 over the 15-year contract.

“This is a town-owned property and we wanted to get the best revenue from it,” Barberio said.

Under a power purchase agreement, Hudson Energy Solar, of Ramsey in Bergen County, will build, own and operate the system at no cost to the town. Hammonton will buy the electricity produced at a discounted rate of about 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour, with an annual rate increase of 2.5 percent.

The town will have the option of buying the solar installation at fair market value after 15 years, or allowing the company to dismantle it. The solar panels have an expected life of 25 years, Barrier said.

Mayor Steve Di Donato cq said the project demonstrates Hammonton’s committment to the work of its Green Committee, which focuses on reducing the town’s environmental footprint.

Consultant Lance Miller, cq of Kleinfelder Omni Environmental in Princeton, estimated the project will keep about 2.2 million pounds of CO2 from being generated, the equivalent of taking 190 cars off the road each year.

Hudson is a publicly traded subsidiary of Just Energy Group with headquarters in Mississauga, Ontario, and Houston, Texas, according to its web site.

The town has been working on the project for several years, but the approval process slowed things down, in part because Hammonton is a Pinelands community, Barberio said.

Councilman cq Michael Pullia, the head of the committee that handled the agreement, said last year the town held an energy auction to take bids on who would become its energy provider. Hudson Energy also won that auction, and the town is saving about $145,000 in electricity costs a year from that action, Pullia said..

He said the town is now looking to put solar projects at other sites, such as the old landfill site and water pumping stations.

“They are the sites that use the most energy — the more industrial sites,” he said. “Town hall doesn’t use that much.”

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