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Farming Solar-Style in Yardville

Tue July 05, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Lori Lovely

Completed in February, the Yardville Solar Farm in Hamilton Township, N.J., is the largest of four solar farms that Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G) has built to date as part of its $515 million Solar 4 All program.

The program, launched in 2009 with approval from state regulators, is intended to generate 80 megawatts of solar power, create jobs and roughly double the size of New Jersey’s installed solar capacity. The garden state already ranks second only to California in the use of solar power, generating more than 250 mW of electric capacity, which is equal to one mid-sized coal or natural gas plant.

The Solar 4 All program reaps financial benefits, such as federal tax investment credits, the sale of energy and capacity and monetizing the solar environmental credits, all of which contribute to the overall cost of the program, reducing the burden on customers. According to, data compiled from a study by the Rutgers Center for Energy, Economic & Environmental Policy indicates that with retail rates for electricity at 15 cents per kilowatt hour, it costs less than 1 percent (two-tenths of one penny per kilowatt hour per month) for residential customers to promote solar development.

PSE&G’s Plan

The state has installed more than 100 mW of solar energy in recent years. PSE&G, New Jersey’s oldest and largest regulated gas and electric delivery utility, serving almost three-quarters of the state’s population, plans to install even more.

New Jersey is an optimal location for solar facilities, said Dan Porrazzo, senior project manager of American Capital Energy, because of the vast amount of open farmland needed for solar systems, a climate that provides cooler temperatures than sunny climes like Arizona and southern California — which enhance the performance of the solar panels, and because of the state’s renewable energy credit program that provides more money to build solar facilities than many other states offer. ACE’s role in this project was to engineer and manage the turn-key installation and procure all equipment.

PSE&G plans to invest more than $140 million in 20 solar projects that will create 300 jobs and provide the state with 30 MW of solar-generated power. When complete, 20 projects under development will produce enough energy to power 4,900 homes and eliminate 23,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions — the equivalent of removing nearly 2,800 cars from the road for one year.

The first segment of the two-part Solar 4 All program involves installation of up to 40 mW of pole-attached smart solar units on utility poles in the PSE&G service areas, including the state’s six largest cities and approximately 300 rural and suburban communities. It is the largest pole-attached solar installation in the world, with smart solar units connected directly into PSE&G’s electric distribution system.

The second segment includes construction of 40 mW of centralized solar facilities throughout the state on PSE&G-owned properties. Yardville is a “key part of the 40 mW of centralized solar that helps make up the 80 mW total of Solar 4 All,” said Fran Sullivan, spokesperson of PSE&G. There is currently about 28 MW installed, she indicated, split evenly between pole-attached solar panels and large centralized projects.

Four sites were selected to become ground-mounted solar farms: Yardville (4.4 mW), Linden (3.2 mW), Edison (2 mW) and Trenton (1.3 mW). All four sites will utilize crystalline solar panel technology and have monitoring and communications functionality. Each will be among the largest solar farms in the state, providing customers with clean electricity.

“This is one of many projects that PSE&G is developing as we invest more than $750 million to increase access to solar energy in New Jersey,” said Al Matos, PSE&G’s vice president of renewables and energy solutions, in a statement. “Clean energy investments are the key to a sustainable future.”

The projects also will stimulate the economy, said Ralph LaRossa, president and COO of PSE&G, by putting people to work, installing tens of thousands of solar panels.

“Investments like these will help New Jersey attract manufacturing jobs and help workers build the skills required to compete in the new green economy.”

PSE&G said the installation will create approximately 150 jobs and that the design and installation work will be completed by four different solar developers. Chosen through a technical review process, solar developers American Capital Energy, headquartered in North Chelmsford, will serve as general contractor for the Yardville facility.


The Yardville Solar Farm will consist of 15,580 Suntech 275-watt solar modules, which weigh 3 lbs. per square-foot. They will cover the 15.75 acres of property owned by PSE&G, providing enough grid-connected solar-generated electricity to power 720 average-size homes.

According to Porrazzo, it takes five acres of open land for every 1 MW of solar power generated — and if there are trees on the edge of that acreage, it requires even more. Once the solar panels are installed, the land can’t be used. These panels have a 25-year warranty, after which time, he said that they may be removed in order to use the land for other purposes.

With many states mandating that energy companies buy green power, Porrazzo noted that it’s often less expensive for them to own the land and facilities so they qualify for the tax credits.

“The price of installation, the modules and other components has come down, so it’s 50 to 70 percent less expensive to construct a system than it was 15 years ago. With the price of standard electricity going up, it makes a lot of sense to go solar.”

Because today’s solar technology is “evolutionary, not revolutionary,” Porrazzo said, older systems do not become obsolete. Current inverters are 97 percent efficient and he said that last three percent will be very expensive to obtain, making systems in place today viable in the foreseeable future. However, he added, “You have to spend money to produce solar power.”

The utility company already owned the land in Hamilton Township, east of Trenton, N.J., so there was no added cost of acquiring space. The land, which was farmed until last year, borders a utility substation on two sides.

“The original intent,” Porrazzo explained, “was to connect it to the substation so that all excess power goes to the grid.”

American Capital Energy will oversee installation of 80 mW DC of solar capacity in New Jersey by 2013, said Sullivan. By the end of February, 4.4 total megawatts at Yardville was online.

The first phase of construction was completed in November 2010. At the peak of construction, more than 100 workers were on-site, building the footings and mounts and installing the panels, Sullivan said. “It’s daytime shift work — 6 days/week.”

“Dealing with a snowier and colder winter than usual has been a bit of a challenge for the project,” Sullivan said, “but I don’t think it has caused any significant delays — just more of a hardship for the workers installing the panels.”

Sitework required excavation to create a retention pond and berms that were planted with $200,000 worth of bushes to shield the view of the solar panels from the neighbors, Porrazzo explained.

“We had a lot of dozers, backhoes, excavators, dumps and forklifts onsite. The property features a 6-foot dip in the center and extensive wetlands behind the site, so we built a retention area to release runoff slowly back to the wetlands.”

The 4,400 kW DC system is ground-mounted with a fixed tilt incorporating Suntech Panels, Unirac ISYS Racking and AE Inverters. Porrazzo said the first step is construction of the racking systems, which are wind tunnel- and snow load-tested. Next, crews anchor them into the ground. When building on landfills, he said counterweights are used instead. Finally, the modules are installed and wired into the inverter, which converts DC voltage to AC power.

Maintenance is “virtually nothing,” Porrazzo said: checking for loose wires and ensuring they remain clean and unobstructed.

“In the northeast, we get enough rain to clean the panels. In the southwest, where there’s a lot of dust, you should wash them occasionally.” CEG

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