Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Solar Farms Put Vacant Land to Work

Since the economic downturn, residents and businesses have been looking for ways to use real estate that may no longer appeal to mall developers or home builders. One option is to build solar energy farms, where thousands of solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity.

Developers and utilities have a particular incentive to do so in New Jersey, where the state’s Solar Renewable Energy Certificates market, along with federal and sometimes local incentives, has made solar energy more profitable.
A few large farms have been proposed and created, including one that opened in October 2009 here at the Livingston Campus of Rutgers. The $10 million, 1.4-megawatt solar installation, with more than 7,000 solar panels on seven acres, is on the smaller side as solar farms go — some in Europe are on hundreds of acres — but the energy it produces is harvested to provide power to all the buildings on campus.

The solar farm meets about 11 percent of the campus’s electrical demand, reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 1,300 tons a year, according to the university.

But where the farm really starts to pay off is in collecting Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, a type of clean energy credit. Rutgers can then sell the certificates in a market popular with companies that want to avoid penalties levied by the state on generators of polluting energy.

...To date, they’ve offset $235,760 from their electrical usage, but they’ve earned certificates that they can sell for about $1.478 million.

Utility companies have developed some of the larger solar farms in New Jersey. The Public Service Electric and Gas Company is building solar farms in Hamilton, Edison, Linden and Trenton, the largest generating about 4.4 megawatts. These larger sites are often referred to as utility-scale projects.

One of the largest solar farms in the nation, which will produce 20 megawatts on about 100 acres of former farmland in southern New Jersey, has been proposed by Panda Power Funds of Dallas and Con Edison Development, a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison of New York. The farm is under construction in Pilesgrove, N.J., and is expected to be generating power this year.

Several utility-scale solar projects have been held up because they would produce a higher voltage than existing transmission lines can handle, said Lee A. Solomon, the president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. He said he anticipated that situation would be remedied with legislation.
One 6.5-megawatt solar farm planned for about 35 acres of a landfill in Stafford Township, N.J., will participate in a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities pilot program that would allow the developer to sell energy produced to 216 apartments
Consisting of 24,600 panels, the solar farm will take about two years to complete, with construction starting in early May. In addition to the apartments, the farm will eventually power nine local government buildings that are on the landfill site, an existing Target store and 250,000 square feet of new retail space, Mr. Walters said.

Called Stafford Park, the development already has five apartment buildings, with a total of 112 units, with rooftop solar panels, as well as 410,000 square feet of retail space, with stores like Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods and PetSmart, all of which are partly powered by rooftop solar.

By building the solar farm on a landfill, the Walters Group was able to quell criticism by some environmentalists that solar farms destroy New Jersey’s little remaining open space.

Arnold Zellner of Greener By Design.cautioned that, though the payback on expensive solar installations had become shorter — about three and a half to five years in New Jersey — most solar farms tended to be longer-term investments, using financing that could stretch 10 or 15 years and warranties for up to 25 years.

By Alison Gregor
The New York Times
March 22, 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment