South Jersey takes wraps off 12.5-megawatt solar farm
After getting under the wire for a federal grant and hastening construction to beat out oversupply in the solar market, Chicago-based Lincoln Renewable Energy LLC today unveiled a 100-acre solar farm in South Jersey.
The solar farm, which generates 12.5 megawatts from 53,000 panels to power nearly 2,000 homes, is the largest non-utility-owned solar project on the East Coast, according to Richard Gruber, senior vice president of business development for LRE.
LRE identified the formerly rural site in December 2009, and by working closely with Fairfield Township officials and residents, the company secured a local permit in October 2010, Gruber said.
"We found it hard work to get folks engaged in the project at first," Gruber said. "But the community … realized there was a lot of benefit, and it's something that will sit there quietly, not bothering anyone, for 20 to 30 years."
To finance the $50 million project, LRE was awarded a $15 million cash grant through the federal Treasury Department's now-expired renewable energy grant program, secured a $27.5 million loan from Macquarie Group Ltd. and chipped in the remaining $7.5 million in cash. Gruber said the company closed on financing in April 2011 and completed construction in December.
"The economic climate for solar today is different than what it was when we were closing on financing months ago," Gruber said. "Lower prices in the market meant we had to be tremendously efficient in our construction. Nowadays, you have to be willing to build knowing there will be a lower return on investment."
Gruber said the solar farm has been connected to the general power grid since December 29, and Macquarie currently buys the power and sells it to customers.
Though the Fairfield Township solar farm is the company's first fully operating solar project in the state, it has formed a new partnership with Samsung C&T America Inc., in Ridgefield Park, to gain "access to capital and the capability to do more projects simultaneously," Gruber said.
"Samsung C&T has a very big presence in New Jersey, and they have a great history of being able to construct major infrastructure around the world," Gruber said.
Gruber said the joint venture, called Monument Power LLC, will help the firm construct more solar projects in the state at a time when "pricing is down and everyone else is awaiting a slight uptick in the market to build."