Big Solar Power Field Coming to Princeton

Princeton is aiming to build a 5.3-megawatt (MW) capacity solar power project that would supply 5.5 percent of the university’s energy needs. The university said the project would be feasible because federal and state programs will allow it to pay the system owner, Key Equipment Finance, a lower lease rate than otherwise would be possible.

“In addition to providing a portion of the electricity needs of the main campus, we hope our approach will serve as a national model,” said Michael McKay, Princeton’s vice president for facilities. In addition to grants from the Recovery Act, the project will receive Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) from the state of New Jersey, which the university will sell to help pay for financing, Key Equipment Finance said.

Sunpower, Princeton, solar power

image via SunPower

The university said solar developer SunPower could begin work on the project, consisting of 16,500 photovoltaic panels and sited on 27 acres it owns in West Windsor Township, as soon as this summer, with completion forecast for summer 2012. The university said 80 percent of the system will use SunPower Trackers, which follow the sun’s movement during the day and increase sunlight capture by up to 25 percent over fixed-tilt systems, according to the company.

Power from the photovoltaic field will come to the university through a cable that will run under the Delaware & Raritan Canal and Lake Carnegie. The university also said trees along a main road fronting the installation “will block most of the site from view,” and “new landscaping also will be installed to screen the site from the road” and as well as the canal and lake.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.