N.J. solar panels start soaking up the sun

February 24, 2009

By VICTOR EPSTEIN Associated Press • February 23, 2009

As reported in the Courier Post

SECAUCUS – With a flip of the switch, one of New Jersey’s largest and newest solar panel projects began soaking up the sun Monday.

The 65,000-square-foot roof of the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus became a solar generator, capable of producing 412 kilowatts of electricity without the environmental concerns posed by oil tankers, nuclear waste, coal mine runoff and natural gas pipelines.


That’s enough juice to power about 50 single-family homes, according to Alfredo Matos, PSE&G’s vice president for renewables and energy solutions, or about 40 percent of the Exposition Center’s needs.


New Jersey’s largest utility is helping finance the $3 million project with a $1.6 million loan. It’s the first solar array to become operational under a PSE&G program to loan $105 million for solar projects over the next two years.


“This isn’t PR,” Matos said. “Solar systems are still out of the market – meaning they still cost more than traditional systems that rely on fossil fuel generation – but with the incentives available today, including our loan program, you can have a system that pays for itself in three or four years.”


Recipients of PSE&G solar loans will repay the utility in energy credits, not dollars. The utility will sell those credits to fossil fuel power plants seeking to offset their carbon emissions, Matos said.


The federal government covers another 30 percent of the cost of building a solar system through an investment tax credit, he said. That leaves pioneers like Hartz Mountain Industries Inc., the Secaucus commercial real estate firm that owns the Exposition Center, with only 20 percent of the cost.


Emanuel Stern, president of Hartz, said the decision to install the Exposition Center’s rooftop array was a solid financial move for the privately held company.


“I’d rather invest in my roofs than in the stock market right now,” Stern said. “It just seems like a no-brainer to me.”

If the Exposition Center array performs as expected over the next six months, Hartz intends to begin retrofitting four or five buildings a year with solar panels, Stern said.


Hartz has a portfolio of 39 million square feet of space in 200 buildings, many of which are warehouses with large roofs that are ideal for solar arrays. As the roofs reach the end of their useful lives, Hartz will look to install solar arrays while they’re being replaced.


Stern estimates that it will take about 10 years for the solar array on the Exposition Center to pay for itself. After that, Hartz will be getting 40 percent of the Exposition Center’s power from the roof, virtually for free.


New Jersey ranks second behind California among states generating electricity from solar panels, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.


As manufacturers of solar systems make more equipment, they’ll become more efficient and prices will come down, said Thomas Leyden, a managing director of Sunpower Corp., the San Jose, Calif.-based company that installed the Exposition Center array. Right now, the cost of retrofitting a typical single-family home is nearly $40,000, he said.


The PSE&G loan program and the federal incentives help bridge the gap between how much solar systems cost and how much people can afford, said Leyden. He estimates that the solar industry is probably only six or seven years away from grid parity with fossil fuel generation because of such programs.


“Solar is not only good for the environment and the country, it’s good business,” Leyden said

Our Perspective:

It is good to see New Jersey and the community make a commitment to alternative energy development. In the coming year, we hope to see more projects of this magnitude. As the demand for energy continues to grow, we need these types of projects to help us reduce the demand off the grid.

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

One Response to “N.J. solar panels start soaking up the sun”

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