July 23, 2018 | ° F

U. breaks ground on solar energy project

In an age where "going green" is a growing environmental effort, University officials announced yesterday their latest effort to jump on board the green machine.

In an endeavor to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the University and New Jersey Board of Public Utilities broke ground on the first major solar energy project on a large scale in New Jersey.

"The Livingston Solar Energy Project represents what can be accomplished when the academic world and government decide to partner and provide a solution to the pressing need to protect our environment, move away from fossil fuels, and use more renewable energy," said Joseph Fiordaliso, commissioner of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

The solar energy project, to be completed by SunDurance Energy for $10 million, would convert sunlight into electricity, thus creating a clean renewable energy source for the University.

University officials and board members hope to harvest 1.4 megawatts of electricity, or 10% of the power needed on Livingston campus, said Antonio Calcado, vice president of Facilities and Capital Planning. That is equivalent to 165 typical three-bedroom homes, he said.

"The best part is that it is a renewable, alternative energy source," Calcado said. As such, he said it would reduce the University's carbon dioxide emissions by almost 1,400 tons a year, or the equivalent of 2,900 barrels of oil, 640 tons of coal or 225 vehicles taken off the road.

"Our solar farm will become an important part of the energy generated for our Livingston campus, and it will reduce the emissions necessary for that electric power," University President Richard L. McCormick said.

He said the project should also reduce costs over the long run, somewhere in the vicinity of $200,000 - $300,000 a year. Funding for the project would be split between the University paying $5.1 million of costs, and $4.9 million provided by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. He estimates at the end of seven years, the system will have paid for itself.

Steve Dolnack, a Livingston College junior, said he hopes the money is invested in a constructive way.

"I'm always a big fan of any establishment or organization 'going green', but one must be sure that the methods employed are truly the most efficient and beneficial," he said.

McCormick said the project would show that the University is serious in its commitment in protecting the environment.

"Rutgers holds many responsibilities in its mission as a State University of New Jersey," McCormick said. "One is to set a good example on issues of importance."

This issue, McCormick said, is one of sustainability. He said that with yesterday's groundbreaking, the University is taking another step in fulfilling its commitment to responsible environmental stewardship.

The University's acquisition of a solar farm is a clear demonstration that the state is on the cutting edge as far as renewable and energy efficiency is concerned, Fiordaliso said. This is the largest campus solar project facility in the country, number two in the country in solar instillations, and number seven in the world in solar instillations, he said.

"[New Jersey] is on the cutting edge, and we have a great deal to be proud of, and a great project to be proud of," Fiordaliso said.

One aspect of the project both the University and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities are proud of is how "ground breaking" the effort actually is, and how much of an example it may set for other institutions.

Two years ago the project seemed to be floundering but Fiordaliso said the project was too important to be let go.

"Not only does it show a commitment on the part of Rutgers University for renewable energy and for the reduction in carbon footprint, but it also shows the commitment by the entire state of New Jersey."

But Kevin Sichta, a Rutgers College senior, is skeptical about the effectiveness and of the motives behind the project.

"It would definitely look good from the public's perspective, and if it would actually pay itself off in seven years, then it sounds like a pretty good idea," he said. "It would be a great public relations move for sure, though it is hard to tell the difference it would actually make."

Solar projects not only helps the environment, but it also makes economic sense, Fiordaliso said. Director of Utility Operations Joseph Witkowski agrees with this standpoint.

"What's great is, the company that we selected to put the system in ... is a New Jersey company. So, obviously, it keeps a local base job perspective," he said.

Chris Kidd, business developer at SunDurance Energy, said the project also works on an educational level, citing the many students who may learn from a solar energy project.

"This being an institution of higher learning, [the solar energy project] will also help in an educational way ... Over the life of the system, students will be able to monitor and learn from it," Kidd said.

McCormick said that while this is a major project, it is only one of many the University participates in, from replacing inefficient hot water lines, retrofitting light fixtures, to improving efficiency at the University's co-generation plant.

"Each [project] is incremental, but neither will transform the University in one fell swoop," he said. "But taken together - and this is another big step this morning - they're all pointing Rutgers in the direction of sustainability."

Rachel Gillett

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