Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mall Installs Solar Panels

A steady supply of light and acres of flat, empty roofs created the perfect opportunity for Glimcher Realty Trust to equip its sprawling Jersey Gardens mall in Elizabeth, N.J., with a sea of solar panels.
Solar panels at Glimcher’s Jersey Gardens mall in Elizabeth, N.J.,
will produce 11 percent of the site’s electricity

The mall’s solar-power array went live this week and is one of a growing number of retail properties that has or is considering solar power to generate all or a portion of its energy needs.

“The costs for solar panels are coming down and it’s making financial sense,” Charlie Kretzer, Glimcher’s director of operations, said of the Columbus-based developer’s first foray into alternative energy.

The installation will produce 11 percent of the mall’s electricity.

Glimcher is also looking into the financial feasibility of similarly equipping its 22 other shopping centers across the country, including Polaris Fashion Place and Eastland Mall locally.

“We have always been energy-conscious and take our sustainability efforts seriously,” Kretzer said. “We’re looking at all our properties and, if solar is feasible, we’ll go.”

IKEA recently turned on the solar power at its Cincinnati-area store. That was the 14th home-furnishing megastore to be equipped with this type of alternative energy.

“Malls are interesting — they have a lot of air conditioning and lights and a lot of flat roofing that makes installation easier,” said Geoff Greenfield, president of Third Sun Solar in Athens.

The high cost of conventional electricity and attractive state incentives make New Jersey a growing market for solar power. And, Greenfield said, New Jersey gets a lot of sun.

“Those are the reasons California is the dominant market for solar and New Jersey is the next-largest market,” Greenfield said, adding that Ohio’s incentives are “in the middle of the pack.”

Even so, another alternative-energy project is in the works in the Buckeye State. Third Sun is developing a 2.8-megawatt solar system for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

At Jersey Gardens, the 15,000 solar panels ensconced atop the 1.3 million-square-foot property will provide 4.8 million megawatts of power.

Jersey Gardens, built in 1999, is the largest outlet mall in New Jersey. Tenants include Gap Outlet, H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch and Nike factory store.

The roofs of many malls are often filled with what Kretzer calls “air-conditioning farms.”

“But on this one, we used fewer, larger units, and there was a lot of open space for solar,” he said.

The solar array at Jersey Gardens was financed and is owned by Clear Focus Corp., a California company that specializes in financing and leasing solar-power projects.

Glimcher purchases the electricity from Clear Focus.

The cost is about the same as what Glimcher currently pays the local electricity utility, Kretzer said, “But where we’ll save money is, we’ll pay the same rate for the next 20 years on that 11 percent (of solar power).”

Matthew Coleman, Clear Focus vice president of project finance, wouldn’t say how much it cost to build the Jersey Gardens system. However, he said the industry standard is $4 to $7 per watt — and there are 1 million watts in a megawatt.

Clear Focus recently financed a 2-megawatt solar installation on the roof of the Butler Plaza strip mall in Gainesville, Fla.

“We are seeing more malls looking at solar,” Coleman said. “In general, they have a high energy use because they need good lighting and want to keep customers cool in the summer and warm in the winter.”


No comments: