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Miskewitz's Champion Container Corp. proving to be poster child for making clean energy profitable

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Tom Miskewitz, president of Champion Container Corp., saw the installation of solar panels on the roof of his Avenel location quickly pay off.
Tom Miskewitz, president of Champion Container Corp., saw the installation of solar panels on the roof of his Avenel location quickly pay off. - ()

There was a time when Tom Miskewitz paid between $2,500 and $3,000 for his monthly electric bill at Champion Container Corp., his shipping business in the Avenel section of Woodbridge.

Today, he's happy to tell a much different story.

“I'll go six months and not even get a bill from the electric company,” said Miskewitz, the president of the company.

The biggest difference is the more than 500 solar panels on the roof of the 64,000-square-foot warehouse, which Champion installed in 2008 along with a separate array at its building in Swedesboro. After upgrading his lighting systems and making other energy-saving improvements, Miskewitz said the 105-kilowatt system generates enough power to cover almost 100 percent of the building's electricity needs.

And he said the company managed to pay off the investment in about four years, thanks to the energy savings and the sky-high price of solar renewable energy certificates. Also known as SRECs, they are the credits that the state's utilities and suppliers can buy from the owners of power-generating solar arrays, allowing them to satisfy state mandates for renewable energy.

The project, installed by Advanced Solar Products Inc. in Flemington, is among tens of thousands of solar arrays developed in New Jersey over the past decade. For businesses, homeowners and other entities that install the panels, it's been a way to cut energy costs while feeding the state's goal of increasing the use of renewable energy across its electric grid.

Rutgers University has touted the benefits of such projects at its Livingston campus in recent years. Two major installations, a 7-acre solar farm and a 31-acre solar canopy parking lot project, cost around $51 million to build going back to 2008. But they were projected to save the university $1.5 million in annual utility costs, according to university officials; portions of the installation were covered by grants, and Rutgers is selling SRECs to utility companies for the power they generate.

For Champion, installing solar panels served the dual purpose of cutting costs and going green, a move that catches the attention of clients and is good for business, Miskewitz said.

“We were just trying to think outside the box,” he said. “At that point it was starting to come around where you started to see a lot of the bigger guys doing it, and to me it just seemed like the right idea.”

The company spent $1.1 million on the first two systems in 2008, Miskewitz said, and they started accruing SRECs in May 2009. Champion has since sold more than 1,100 credits between the two New Jersey properties, much of them when SREC prices were in the $650 range at the height of the solar market.

“That's where we really made up all of the money there,” Miskewitz said.

That allowed the business to pay off the investment within just a few years — much sooner that a company might be able to these days now that SREC prices have fallen to below $200.

After seeing the benefits, Champion installed a third array of 180 panels at its 55,000-square-foot facility in Sutton, Mass. Miskewitz is eager to build another array — he also put one on his house last year — but that will have to wait until the company opens another building.

“Unfortunately we've done all three of our buildings,” he said. “But when we put up another building, it's already in the game plan.”

E-mail to: joshb@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @joshburdnj

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