Big box stores have always been in a tiff to boast about who has the lowest prices. Now they are out to prove that size matters, as in, who now has the largest solar power system in the USA. Since beer gardens are not going to appear on those warehouse rooftops anytime soon, that wasted space has got to go somewhere, and to that end, Toys “R” Us yesterday flipped the on switch for what the company claims is one of the biggest solar rooftop installations in the country.
The 5.38 MW solar array was constructed on the roof of the toy giant’s 1.3 million square foot distribution center in Flanders, New Jersey, an hour drive away from New York City. Over 37,000 solar panels should generate 72 percent of the facility’s electricity needs if the system operates as planned. The equivalent of fueling and lighting 500 homes, or 6.4 million kilowatt hours, will be the annual output of the Flanders solar operation.
The Toys “R” Us project is just another step in New Jersey’s focus on developing its solar power infrastructure. By most accounts New Jersey has the second largest solar capacity among U.S. states–more than the third and fourth ranking states, Colorado and Nevada, combined. One company benefiting from the solar boom is Baltimore-based Constellation Energy, which built the Toys “R” Us project. Constellation owns the warehouse’s solar power system under the terms of a power purchase agreement (PPA). Under the PPA’s arrangement, Toys “R” Us did not have to front any capital for the system–Constellation in turn manages the system and retains any federal or local renewable energy credits. The contract is also a boost for Toys “R” Us flagship store in New York’s Times Square: Constellation will target 7500 renewable energy certificates annually for the next three years to offset the electricity needed to run the Manhattan store.
Target, Walmart, Wegmans, and IKEA are among the mega retailers that have invested and tinkered with solar energy projects. Whether the reasons are for public relations, tax credits, or hedging against long term energy price increases, the results are a net positive: less emissions, more innovation, and local jobs generated in the community. Look for the “my solar array is bigger than yours” mantra to continue in the coming decade.