New Jersey $515 Million Solar Plan

Solar panels will be installed on more than 200,000 utility poles across New Jersey under a plan by Public Service Electric & Gas Co. that was approved Wednesday by the state Board of Public Utilities.

Ratepayers will see a 10-cent a month increase in upcoming bills to help pay for the $515 million plan that also includes solar installations at PSE&G facilities and at schools, municipal buildings and private property in Urban Enterprise Zones.

The projects will double the state's solar capacity, and are part of Governor Corzine's ambitious goal of getting 30 percent of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

PSE&G executives weren't able to say how much this plan will cut down on the utility's use of fossil fuels, but said it's a "big step" toward renewable energy contributing significantly to electricity demands.

"Our customers will receive more of their energy from cleaner sources," said Al Matos, vice president of Renewable and Energy Solutions.

Even though the utility pole effort will be the largest of its kind in the world, the overall plan has been scaled back. PSE&G announced in February that the project would cost $773 million, generate 120 megawatts and take six years to implement. The approved version is $250 million less, will generate 80 megawatts and take three years to implement.

"When we looked ahead, we saw that it would be better to do a three-year program," Matos said.

The project will be paid for by the 10-cent rate hike in the first year along with the sale of energy credits at auction and federal tax incentives. Rates will eventually go down as the infrastructure costs are paid off, Matos said.

Installations will begin immediately and are expected to be completed by the end of 2013. The pole units will be manufactured by Petra Solar of South Plainfield.

PSE&G expects to use 90 employees full time to install utility pole panels. Petra Solar plans to hire 100 people to fill the order.

E-mail: fallon@northjersey.com

(Source: The Record - Hackensack, New Jersey)trackingBy Scott Fallon, The Record, Hackensack, N.J.