VINELAND — The city’s electric company created more new solar-energy watts per customer last year than any other utility in the country, officials announced Tuesday.

City officials said they hope also to rank first in the county in the overall amount of total solar energy watts when an industry trade group releases its rankings next month.

The national ranking of the Vineland Municipal Electric Utility by the Solar Electric Power Association is most impressive because there were no solar energy fields in the city four years ago, Mayor Robert Romano said.

“Since 2008, we have made great strides with our utility,” he said. “Not only was it our goal to retool the utility, but it was also important for the city to be an environmental leader.”

The city now has an estimated 100 acres of solar energy fields in operation, city Municipal Utilities Director Joseph Isabella said. The VMEU is also well ahead of its goal of producing 20 percent of its electric from renewable energy sources by 2015, he said.

Romano said the increased use of renewable energy resulted in two decreases in VMEU rates. VMEU officials will review their figures to see if another rate decrease is possible this year, he said.

Five solar energy fields in the city sell power directly to VMEU under long-term purchase agreements. VMEU said those agreements should cut power production costs by about $1.3 million annually.

Residential customers pay about $1,440 in base electric costs per year, Isabella said.

VMEU has slightly more than 25,900 customers. All but about a dozen city properties get their power from VMEU.

SEPA, an industry trade group, named the Vineland utility on Tuesday as being first in country in its production of solar energy watts per customer for 2011. Figures show the city produced 768.5 solar energy watts per customer for that year. That easily surpasses the second-place finisher, a Georgia-based utility that produced 192.4 solar energy watts per customer.

“The Vineland Municipal Electric Utility successfully adapted its business models and operations to allow for a significant amount of solar energy to be integrated into the grid last year,” SEPA President Julia Hamm said. “The impressive gains solar energy made in the U.S. in 2011 can be largely attributed to VMEU’s leadership.”

SEPA officials said solar electricity was the fastest-growing electrical source in the country last year.

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