PSE&G Wants More Solar Farms in New Jersey

By Erin Delmore

This place is a dump, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless. Adam Levy is the vice president of legal and regulatory affairs for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. He selected a 1960s landfill in the Meadowlands to become a solar farm.

“We determined that the top of a landfill that had been closed for decades at that point was relatively flat, very little settlement was going to occur. We thought that a solar facility was a perfect way of reusing the property,” he said.

“It’s a ballasted system, so what that means is all the panels rest on top of the landfill. One of the things that you’re not permitted to do through DEP is to pierce the cap of a landfill,” said Todd Hranicka, the director of solar energy for PSE&G.

The state’s largest utility owns this solar farm and wants to own 10 more like it. PSE&G filed last week for another 100 megawatts of solar grid-connected projects on landfills and brownfields. It needs approval from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

This is PSE&G’s first solar farm built on a state-owned landfill back in 2011. It spans 13 acres with nearly 13,000 panels. It produces enough power every year for 500 homes. The other sites the company’s applied for would be even bigger.

Building on landfills and brownfields is part of the state’s Energy Master Plan, pushed by Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature. PSE&G Vice President of Renewables and Energy Solutions Courtney McCormick says the utility it uniquely positioned to grow the effort.

“So since the inception of this program in 2009, our cost to complete these projects has been reduced by roughly half. We have really developed an expertise in this area, and really the ability to execute fundamentally and to take advantage of reduced costs for our customers,” McCormick said. Environmentalists say it reduces our carbon footprint, it’s sustainable and it makes something out of nothing.

“Well there’s very limited opportunities to use brownfields for productive uses and solar energy is one of the better uses that brownfields can be used for. And this avoids taking up farmland and other productive natural lands for use of solar generation,” said Tom Wells, director of government relations for Nature Conservancy of New Jersey.

“New Jersey is a very densely populated state, so we look to have projects that take advantage of these spaces. It’s making productive use of otherwise unproductive land,” McCormick said.

The panels sit on top of decomposing of waste, turning sunlight into energy, feeding it back into the grid.

“It benefits all of our customers in our electric service territory,” Hranicka said.

McCormick said developing these larger projects helps the utility pass savings on to customers. The project’s chief critic, Director of the Division of the Rate Counsel Stephanie Brand, questions how they’re paying for it.

“We certainly want to see solar we certainly like to see it on brownfields and landfills but the question is wither this is the right way to pay for it. In other states, PSE&G is investing in solar and doing it through shareholders and not through rates, and other companies in the state, other regulated utilities in the state, are also using their unregulated energy subsidiaries to do solar rather than trying to get it paid for by ratepayers and I think this is an opportunity to take a  look at whether or not they really need ratepayers to fund this or whether there is enough solar generation that is being developed or whether it can be developed using private sources of funding that would be more appropriate,” Brand said.

McCormick says the cost comes to 10 cents annually on the customer bill. At it’s height: 11 cents per month for the typical residential customer. She responded to Brand’s criticism.

“We find that private developers would largely shy away from these sou of projects, again, given their complexity, given the permitting challenges and the long lead times that are involved,” said McCormick. She also said the cost comes to 10 cents a year for the typical residential customer. At it’s height: 11 cents a month for the typical residential customer. She responded to Brand’s criticism.

“We really think within our regulated utility business that we’re able to pass on the benefits and the subsidies that come through — in terms of SREX, in terms of the ICC —  so that provides a tremendous benefit back and flows through our customer. So that I think she just doesn’t probably fully understand,” McCormick said.

PSE&G expects the regulatory process to take a few months. The Board of Public Utilities declined to comment on the pending matter.