Solar and wind energy in New Jersey got a boost Thursday with the unveiling of new projects and studies.
Thursday morning, Gov. Jon S. Corzine officially "turned on" the 13,486 solar panels on the roof of the Atlantic City Convention Center. It is the largest single-roof solar project to date in North America.
The project will generate about 2.37 megawatts of power. In cleaner-power terms, that is the equivalent of taking about 400 carbon dioxide-emitting cars off the road annually.
"It's just an incredible reality of what's going on in Atlantic City," Corzine said at Thursday's event.
But the push to promote solar power in New Jersey goes beyond large buildings such as the convention center. State residents can save almost half the cost of installing solar panels on their houses with funding from both the state and the recently passed federal economic stimulus package.
The stimulus plan provides a 30 percent tax credit or grant available to anybody who installs solar panels through the end of 2010. A state rebate program already offers a nearly 20 percent rebate for people who install solar panels.
"Now is really the best time to install solar panels," said Jeanne Fox, the president of the state's Board of Public Utilities.
According to a study released last month by the University of Berkeley, New Jersey has the third lowest installation cost per watt in the country of solar energy systems of less than 10 kilowatts, following closely behind Arizona and California. New Jersey's per watt average cost was about $8.40 in 2006 and 2007.
Solar power doesn't begin and end with these projects. People whose houses aren't suited for solar panels can pay a little more on their electric bill to get power from solar energy through the state's CleanPower Choice Program.
Despite people pinching pennies, Fox said about 18,000 people throughout the state have opted to pay a bit more to guarantee they get their energy from renewable energy sources through the program.
Offshore wind power also moved forward Thursday. The state's Department of Environmental Protection released the preliminary results of studies on the impact of proposed offshore wind turbines on birds, fish and other living things. The final Ocean/Wind Power Ecological Baseline Study is expected to be released in the fall.
According to the interim study, five threatened or endangered marine mammal and turtle species make the projected wind project area their home. These include the North Atlantic right whale, the fin whale, the humpback whale, the loggerhead turtle and the leatherback turtle. There also have been 110 different bird species detected in the study area off the coast of New Jersey.
As more data and specific locations of these species are released, the three companies pursuing offshore wind projects can begin constructing meteorological towers. The towers are used to collect wind data and other information to allow wind farms to generate as much power as safely and effectively as possible.
Fox said she expects the towers to be up and running by this summer. She also said that the project should create jobs that will stay within New Jersey.
"The construction jobs have to be New Jersey-based," Fox said. That includes the construction of a long cable that takes the electricity generated from the turbines and transports it to a grid on the shore.
E-mail Ben Leach: BLeach@pressofac.com