JE Berkowitz Hosts Celebration for Start-up of New Rooftop Solar System
June 24, 2010

JE Berkowitz’s 7,200-panel rooftop solar array was fully energized on May 20.

JE Berkowitz LP (JEB) hosted a ceremony yesterday at its facility in Pedricktown, N.J., celebrating the full start-up of its new 7,200-panel rooftop solar array. The panels cover the expanse of the company’s 180,000-squrae-foot plant roof and are expected to produce more than 2 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year and save approximately 25 percent of the manufacturing plant’s electric power expense annually.

In an exclusive interview with USGNN.com™/USGlass magazine, JEB president Arthur Berkowitz explained that the concept began in 2009. The company took into consideration the federal government’s American Recovery Act program (ARRA), which provides a 30-percent grant within 90 days of commissioning the solar installation, as well as the State of New Jersey solar renewal energy certificates (S-RECs) program when deciding to undertake the more than $7 million project.

JE Berkowitz hosted employees,
state and local officials, members of solar installer Ray Angelini Inc., and employees of Citizens Bank at yesterday's celebration of its new solar panel array.

“Given the fact that we’re a huge user of power, the state of New Jersey has very attractive S-RECs and the ARRA had this grant, we began to do a study. We hired a consultant, began to interview a series of contractors and looked at two approaches to be in the solar business,” Berkowitz said.

Those approaches include using a power purchase agreement (PPA), or essentially leasing the system. “It’s attractive if you don’t have the financing to do it, but ultimately the payback is not there,” Berkowitz said. Instead JEB purchased its system, an option, he added, that “has a much more aggressive payback.”

After an extensive interview process, the company went with a contractor based in New Jersey, Ray Angelini Inc. (RAI), which has tackled some of the state’s larger solar installations. “We felt comfortable that he had the resources and the wherewithal,” Berkowitz said. “Ultimately we buy the panel and we would buy the inverters, and they’re pretty much a given - it’s all about the installation. You don’t want to go with someone who’s learning the process.” Part of the importance JEB placed on having an experienced installer came down to the fact that RAI is responsible for maintenance of the panels throughout the life of the building.

Ray Angelini told attendees of yesterday’s celebration that JE Berkowitz’s new solar array would produce in a year power equivalent to the electricity consumed by 174 homes in a year.

“They monitor it 24/7. Back in their offices they have computer monitoring that says, ‘hey this panel is out.’ They have a very tight period of time when they come back and change it out,” Berkowitz explained.

RAI elected to use solar panels manufactured by Sharp Corp., which has manufacturing facilities in Memphis, Tenn.

“We felt that since the funding is coming from the federal government and the state of New Jersey, if this panel is efficient and if the cost was competitive, then [a U.S.-made panel] is the route we wanted to go,” Berkowitz added.

Once permitting and engineering studies had been completed, site work began on January 22, 2010. JEB operated as usual during the installation. “There were a couple weekends where we had to shut off all our power while they were doing hook-ups, but there was zero impact on our operations,” Berkowitz said. Despite delays that included record-breaking snowstorms and hurdles thrown out by the electric company, the company completed the installation on April 16.

That hurdle, Berkowitz explained, was an additional study requested by the electric company as the installation neared completion. “This is such a large install that the power company was concerned about the impact of this amount of power being sent back to the grid,” Berkowitz said. “They were used to people with small homes or stores that had 20 to 30 panels on them. This is a 1.7 mW system. Monday through Friday when we’re in operation, we’re consuming all that power. On weekends, when we’re not operating, the great bulk of that power is being sent back to the grid.”

Arthur Berkowitz thanked the players in JE Berkowitz’s solar installation, including the internal team made up of his father Ed Berkowitz, CFO Dave Byruch and project manager George Smith.

Although the study delayed the full energizing of the system by several weeks, it ultimately showed that the inverters and system would have no detrimental effect on the local utilities. On May 20 the system’s eight inverters were fully energized.

Although it’s early to see any return on the significant investment, Berkowitz noted that as of yesterday’s celebration, “We’re just approaching 400,000 kW hours of power that we’ve produced.”

Berkowitz offered a few pieces of advice for other companies considering solar power:

  • Know your consumption of electric.
  • Learn about your state’s S-RECs.
  • Consider your lending institution’s interest or knowledge of solar energy financing. “You have to understand that the banks in United States are not particularly knowledgeable in solar financing. It’s a new market to them,” Berkowitz said. He added, “We have a very cooperative and helpful bank, Citizens Bank, and when they understood the model, the impact and what we consider to be an aggressive payback, which is under five years, they signed on.”
  • Consider your location. “We did a study based on a 30-year history of weather patterns,” Berkowitz said. “It says is we can expect about 185 days of sun per year.”
  • Consider your facility and roof. “Remember you’re putting a huge amount of weight on the roof,” Berkowitz says. While JEB’s building, erected just three years ago, was prepared for the load, he noted, “A lot of people get into this with older buildings and they spend as much money reinforcing the roof as the actual installation.”

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