Solar Energy Price Sky-High

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Meadowlands Commission's plan to create one of the largest solar energy systems in the United States could cost between $35 million and $250 million, according to a consultant on the project.

Jeffrey Wootan, executive director of Massachusetts-based Solar Design Associates, said that because of the high cost of the project, which he estimated at between $35 million to produce 5 megawatts of electricity and $200-to-$250 million to produce up to 35 megawatts, companies with deep pockets are more likely to respond to the Meadowlands Commission's request for proposals.

"The types of companies that are going to play are those like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley," said Wootan, referring to two Wall Street investment banks. He added that large firms specializing in solar energy, such as PowerLight Corp. and B.P. Solar, a division of British Petroleum, could also be interested in the project.

The commission's plan to produce 5 megawatts of solar-generated electricity in the Meadowlands area by the end of 2007 -- and up to 20 megawatts through a combination of solar and other renewable sources by 2020 -- was announced last April. Since then the commission has created a taskforce, the Renewable Energy Master Plan Committee, to study potential alternative energy sources for the Meadowlands District, according to Chris Gale, communications director for the commission.

Commission Executive Director Bob Ceberio said it will send out requests for proposals for the 5-megawatt solar project in September. The commission expects companies to respond by the end of the year so that contracts can be awarded by January 2007 and installation can begin by the end of 2007, he said.

For the project's first phase, the solar panels will be affixed to property that the commission already owns, including the sides of buildings on its Lyndhurst campus, slopes of the landfill and parking areas. The second phase will include approximately 1 million square feet of space in the 14 towns and 10 school districts in the Meadowlands area, said Ceberio.

"We're not paying for the project," said Ceberio, adding that the commission is still exploring how the project will be financed.

Ceberio said he expected the winning company or companies to finance the projects through their own funds and possibly through renewable energy tax credits, rebates and low-interest loans.

The state offers a number of incentives for investments in alternative energy, including grants that cover up to 20 percent of the project's cost and low–interest loans for projects producing more than 1 megawatt of electricity, according to the New Jersey Office of Clean Energy's web site.

Wootan lauded the Meadowlands solar project as one of the first "very sizeable and very visible" efforts in New Jersey to demonstrate the state's commitment to energy conservation and energy manufacturing. The state Board of Public Utilities recently approved new regulations that will require 20 percent of the state's energy to come from renewable sources by 2020, with at least 2 percent from solar power.

Besides generating electricity for residential and commercial use, the commission hopes to create a hub that will attract manufacturers and technology workers from the growing solar industry, said Gale.

"They are looking for places where they could work on the next generation of solar power," he said. "We'd like to have some of that research and development here."

Original Article