Solar Panels, Now Coming to a Utility Pole Near You

PSE&G program advances into Essex County towns.

Essex County residents are starting to notice solar panels popping up on PSE&G utility poles. But soon the panels won’t be hard to miss.

When the utility company’s plan is completed in 2013, 200,000 solar panels will be installed on utility poles in more than 300 municipalities across the state. It’s all part of PSE&G’s “Solar 4 All” program.

In July 2009, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) granted approval to PSE&G for the power company to invest more than $500 million in 80,000 kilowatts of solar projects.

The first of two major projects involves installing individual solar panels on utility poles; the second will create centralized solar gardens/farms on building rooftops and large tracts of land.

At the time, Ralph LaRossa, president and COO of PSE&G said in a press release, “Our program will effectively double the size of New Jersey’s installed solar capacity. That is more solar capacity than currently exists in any state other than California.”

PSE&G will receive federal tax credits and solar renewable energy credits, which will also be used to offset the cost to customers. The utility estimates the program will cost its average residential customer about 10 cents a month in the first year.

Individual panels, measuring approximately 2½-feet by 5-feet, started appearing on poles in 2010, oftentimes to mixed emotions. The current phase of the project is advancing to the Caldwells, West Orange, Verona, Montclair and Cedar Grove.

Caldwell resident William Krusznis had a panel installed recently on a pole outside his Westville Avenue home.

“While I am not against the idea,” Krusznis said, “I think the panels are quite ugly and encroaching. I would suggest they inform people about it before and perhaps attempt to make them more attractive, maybe consider putting them higher on the poles or somewhere else all together.”

Montclair Councilman Cary Africk, a member of the Montclair Environmental Commission, has been vocal about his opposition to the project.

“I certainly support the alternate energy sources, but this is very unattractive. PSE&G has very large rights of way with their high-tension power line towers. Why aren’t they putting them [solar panels] there?”

Many blogs and websites are saturated with comments both pro and con. Those in favor say after complaints of global warming from greenhouse gases and the burning of fossil fuels, how can anyone object to solar energy? Another argument in favor of the panels says with the acceptance of telephone poles with multiple digital cable boxes and electric wires snaking through our towns already — what’s wrong with adding a solar panel?

Residents are also asking why these panels can’t be installed along the Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Turnpike, routes 80, 280, and 78, etc. — and that’s just the northern part of the state.

David Weisman is the owner of Green Alternatives based in West Caldwell. Weisman, who calls himself a “solar geek,” offered his expertise.

“PSE&G is a local energy distribution company, under the regulation of the BPU. The high-tension power line towers are part of the regional electrical grid, PJM, an interstate transmission company whose territory stretches from the mid-Atlantic states, westward to Indiana and Illinois. They are under the purview of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, (FERC),” Weisman explained.

He added, “From a policy perspective, too many required variances are probably complicating cooperation between the two. Plus, there is too big of a difference in the power generated by these small solar panels and the energy running through those high-power lines.”

Fran Sullivan, a spokesman for PSE&G, affirmed that high-power lines are not a viable option for solar panels.

“Those lines are carrying one-quarter million to one-half million volts of power and could never receive the low levels of electricity created by the solar panels,” Sullivan said. “These panels need to connect right into the secondary power lines near the homes and businesses. That power has already been stepped down by a transformer on the pole to the household, 240/120-volt level. So installing them along the major highways in our territory is not possible either.”

While most people would prefer not to stare at solar panels out their windows, or in their parks and villages, placement is not based on aesthetics, according to Sullivan.

“We don’t pre-survey the poles,” Sullivan concluded. “We send out crews with a supply of panels and if the poles meet the criteria, they install the panel.”

The panel needs to have unobstructed, southern exposure, access to a secondary line and can’t block access to other equipment.

“It will probably average out to about one in four utility poles,” Sullivan said.

What do you think of the solar panels? Let us know in the comments section below.

Frank M. November 15, 2011 at 12:33 PM
My guess is the large utility will not pass on any savings to the homeowners and pocket the tax credits. The tax credit from the Federal Government should have mandated a reduced cost for homeowners. Instead we get to look at ugly panels on poles that IN FACT have NOT been proven to work and our rates keep skyrocketing!
Cj November 15, 2011 at 01:26 PM
I first noticed them in Jersey City. Then a week later on Westville Ave in Caldwell and think they are so ugly. They surely do not do the town justice what so ever. I also hope they work better then these green things that are up there now. Ever since PSE&G changed these to the green lights they have not been bright enough. My own street is so dark I do not want to walk it when its dark and I never felt that way before. Please tell me these things work and they will be as bright or brighter for the ugly mess they are
Cary Africk November 15, 2011 at 02:22 PM
I'm not opposed to the panels, I'm just asking that some sensitivity be exercised in their placement. Railroad right of ways, perhaps other ideas?
John Lee November 15, 2011 at 03:14 PM
Solar panels were just installed in my block and I'm not sure what the kerfluflfe is all about. I guess if you are looking for something to complain about you can always find it. (but since we have elected officials in the thread, can we do something about banning the Pontiac Aztek from residential neighborhoods, that thing is an eyesore! :D)
Cj November 15, 2011 at 03:23 PM
When I was riding down Westville for some reason these panels caught my eye. That is exactly why I think they are ugly. I would like for people to see the beauty of Caldwell, and the houses that are so different and the charm of the town compared to some towns and now your eye heads upwards to the utility poles. How charming is that? They are doing nothing for the charm of our town and guess what??? I bet your utility bill never goes down. I also bet it continues to go up. So what's the point?
Rick Cahill November 15, 2011 at 04:31 PM
It is a conspiracy from the cell phone providers to take attention away from cell towers.
Ricardo Dacosta November 15, 2011 at 08:29 PM
Solar Energy is one, if not the most, lucrative way to make money these days, especially in NJ. Follow me: 1) PSEG will receive a 30% Federal Tax credit which will save them HUGE amounts of money. 2) When you have a solar system, whether on a residential or commercial structure, each 1000KW your system generates, you will receive 1 SREC credit which can be sold to electricity companies for $400-600. Electricity suppliers, the primary purchasers of SRECs, are required to pay a Solar Alternative Compliance Payment (SACP) if they do not meet the requirements of New Jersey’s Solar RPS. One way they can meet their RPS is by purchasing SRECs. Lets assume, judging by the size of the panels, that they produce 100W. In NJ you get an average of 4 hours of Sun power, so each panel will produce 400W a day or 12KW a month. They are planning to install 200,000 panels at 12KW a month each = 28,800,000KW a year from such project which equals 28,800 SREC credits. Remember, each credit is valued at $400-600 in NJ so PSEG will save $11,520,000.000 a year in SRECs If you have $25,000 to invest in a a small Solar System in your residential or commercial property , I can show you how it can generate a $108,000 ROI in just 15 years! Call Ricardo, Alquimi Solar Associate - 973-951-1469
Chris Wysocki November 15, 2011 at 08:40 PM
I think these things will produce a backlash against solar energy. They're too ugly, too obtrusive, and essentially pointless. Yes, *pointless*. Look at Solar Shill Ricardo Dacosta's numbers above - 400 Watts per day from the pole out in front of your house. That'll power a light bulb for a few hours. Whoop-dee-doo! For $500 million bucks PSE&G could have trimmed a lot of trees and made their overhead electrical distribution system more reliable and storm-proof. Instead they're tilting at the solar windmill, because it looks good for the greenies. You know what I want? A buried backyard nuclear reactor. Produces way more than 400 Watts, and still works when the sun goes down.
Cj November 15, 2011 at 08:53 PM
I also wonder just how much of a storm is it going to take to make these things come down.
Thirty Four November 15, 2011 at 09:05 PM
A buried backyard nuclear reactor? I hope not to be in the same state as you. Just for curiosity. How do you plan to deal with nuclear waste from your backyard? I bet you cannot disclose that to the public due to security reason, right?
Chris Wysocki November 15, 2011 at 09:22 PM
You would be surprised at the technological advances being made in nuclear power. Google "Thorium molten salt". Much less waste (and with shorter half-life too), no high-pressure steam (so no danger of leaks), and small form factor. The technology is still developing, but if companies like PSE&G stopped wasting their time on solar panels and windmills they could divert resources into mass-producing small liquid fueled nuclear reactors. The Toshiba Nuclear Battery is a totally sealed unit (so no waste issues) which lasts for 25 years and can power up to 10,000 homes. Put one of them under Kiwanis Oval and Caldwell is energy independent!
Thirty Four November 15, 2011 at 11:43 PM
You are talking about the so-called "battery" which is essentially a mini nuclear power plant right? You put that 100-foot power plant under the ground in Caldwell for 25 years of use and then you worry about how to deal with 300 years of contained radiation later? Shorter half-life. Sure, it reduces the contaminant period from 10,000 years down to 300 years. Big improvement. Hopefully, during that 300 years, nobody will accidentally or intentionally crack that giant "battery" open. Let them build that in Alaska. Not in NJ.
Thirty Four November 16, 2011 at 02:02 AM
Also, these ugly panels let PSE&G gather intels, monitor and control power lines in smart grid applications. Data is transferred between these individual panels and control center via AT&T wireless network. This kind of intel gathering and grid control can only be done economically in distributed manner by using the poles.
Thirty Four November 16, 2011 at 02:17 AM
These units hook directly to the last mile part of the grid. Although small amount, but each unit contributes small amount of power and help regulate the voltage. During the power outage, it stops feeding the grid and uses power to keep the wireless module alive to report to the control center in real time of the power outage. Have JCP&L had these units installed, they would know which segments in town still had the outage.
Chris Wysocki November 16, 2011 at 02:27 AM
Use your imagination! The nuclear battery is the prototype. Did anyone here read Asimov? When Hari Seldon's Encyclopedia Galactica team arrived on Terminus one of the first things they created was a personal nuclear reactor. Where will our own technology be in 300 years? Science has already created bacteria which eat nuclear waste; how much more efficient might our waste disposal efforts be in the 24th century? The Thorium molten salt reactors we have today do not emit any more radiation than you can get at the beach. They're sealed. I'd put one in my back yard, if I could. Today's nuclear power is not your father's Three Mile Island.
Reimer Mellin November 16, 2011 at 02:36 AM
Cary, Would it not make more sense to bundle the panels? On free open spaces with little trees around ? For example the various flat roofs of our public buildings? Putting single panels on posts along streets with lots of trees seems more than wasteful to me. Falling branches, shifting shadows etc. I can not make sense out of this.
Don November 16, 2011 at 02:39 AM
The power a panel that size generates is less than a refrigerator takes. I think the "smart grid" hypothesis is probably accurate, its probably power for diagnostics even when the power grid is down. What disturbs me is how technologically ignorant New Jerseyans seem to be - Solar panels on utility poles are a routine sight all around the country and have been for decades. They aren't news. And they aren't a source of power thats going to make up for the staffing cutbacks that make PSEG slow to respond after emergencies. Despite being a technological leader in the past and still in many ways, in the present, in many ways, NJ is trapped in a time warp, an era when people knew nothing about computers and technology- and were intimidated and mystified by them. It could make us vulnerable to crooks who exploit our ignorance. IS that what's happening here?: Want to Hack an E-Voting Machine in 7 Minutes? http://spectrum.ieee.org/riskfactor/computing/it/want_to_hack_an_evoting_machin.
Chris Wysocki November 16, 2011 at 03:31 AM
Yes Don, a nuclear battery is exactly like a voting machine. That's why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is working feverishly to perfect his country's first voting machine. Read up on LFNR (liquid fueled nuclear reactor) technology. There are no weapons grade fissionable materials inside. But if you're really afraid of terrorists tunneling in from below, I'd recommend moving to a mountaintop and investing in seismic sensors. Seal yourself up if you must, but keep the anti-aircraft guns on "auto" just in case a hijacked jetliner is headed your way.
Don November 16, 2011 at 03:36 AM
Chris, you know that homeowners insurance has a blanket exemption for radioactive fallout from nuclear accidents or terrorism. Your home and community could be lightly dusted with fallout cntaining plutonium, become part of a national sacrifice area, and you and your family might be put into a camp for your own safety, sans all of your belongings, clothing, pets and imporant family documents of every kind. Prohibited from returning, and your homeowners insurance policy would not pay you a penny. Just like an act of war, they are exempt. Read the fine print. And of course, the cost of a large area in a densely populated area becoming uninhabitable for hundreds of years would be astronomical, and would bankrupt any corporate power company or insurer. The government is judgement proof. Would you pay, if you didn't have to? I think the nation would simply fence off the area and try to do without it, like Russia and the Ukraine have done with the areas around the Chernobyl plant and the Ural Mountains nuclear accident.
Don November 16, 2011 at 03:55 AM
Would you support going nuclear 100%? By backlash, do you mean making solar power illegal? economy cars illegal? Bicycling (human power) illegal? The comparison I was trying to draw was between the voting machine seals, which experts have said are not adequate protection to protect machines that can be manipulated simply by replacing their ROM chip, and putting a phony seal over it. (Or so I read in dozens of articles, a Rutgers lawsuit against the state, and the computing scholarly press..) In a sense those seals are not unlike the seals on a backyard or kitchen nuke. Whos to know if the backyard nuke is moved into the garage, really, and Junior goes to work on it in a determined manner? We wont, probably, because like the voting machines, some judge would suppress the information: https://freedom-to-tinker.com/blog/appel/judge-suppresses-report-voting-machine-security and also: http://citp.princeton.edu/voting/advantage and http://cseweb.ucsd.edu/~hovav/dist/avc.pdf and additionally http://blogs.computerworld.com/17633/argonne_security_experts_calls_voting_systems_insecure plus http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20081020/1557562594.shtml and http://www.electionreformnetwork.us/node/230
Tammy November 16, 2011 at 04:26 PM
I say natural gas generators at all schools, ALL schools in The Caldwells! If or when we experience this type of power outage again the schools should be fired up, so the children have a warm, safe, and solid routine during the day. The fact that our children were cold, no power, no heat, food going bad, dark nights, and no school routine was not healthy for mind or body. It was visually a disaster. We as parents and leaders worried each day and after two or three days, they worried too. It was clear to them that everyone was on their own for a bit. The children needed to attend warm schools, learn, have that camaraderie with friends, and this did not happen. I am sure parents would have gladly helped at the schools if teachers/administration could not make it in due to their community issues. But our local township leaders too would have been in school to help our children. This community preparedness would have provided normalcy during a disturbing time. Thanks to the Caldwell Community Center, Area Libraries for helping out.
Don November 16, 2011 at 06:15 PM
Generators are a good idea for schools and all public infrastructure. I am surprised that they don't already have them, frankly. But natural gas often gets turned off.. (in hurricanes and earthquakes) to prevent fires so its perhaps not the best choice. Solar panels are also useful for emergency power, they can be used to keep telephone/Internet open and to power 12v emergency lighting.
Cj November 16, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Tammy just think of what family time you could have had. Make the best of a bad situation. Life does have its ups and downs and these kids need to see that to. Harboring kids from everything will not help them in life. Instead make a joke of it have a good time and they will also. I bet most kids loved being off from school, power or not. They just couldnt play their video games. Try a game of cards by candlelight . It would be fun.
Don November 17, 2011 at 11:06 PM
"A truck carrying uranium fuel rods was rear-ended on I-40 westbound near U.S. Highway 64 Tuesday night. No fuel rods fell off the truck. The Emergency Management Agency said that their staff also used small devices to monitor the level of radiation in the area. An alarm would sound at the detection of radiation, and the device provides a read on the level of radiation present. The EMA was not able to say what type of fuel rods were being transported on the truck. Often times, uranium rods are used for nuclear power plants or for hospital radiation therapy. The EMA also said that vehicles carrying such rods are not unusual in the area." http://www.wreg.com/videogallery/66118549/News/Truck-Hauling-Uranium-Crashes-on-I-40 Doctor Finds Some Tokyo Citizens Have Radioactive Fingernails, Says Cannot Measure Fukushima Residents- Radiation Too Strong: http://enenews.com/doctor-finds-uranium-and-zirconium-in-tokyo-residents-fingernails-we-are-becoming-nuclear-fuel-rods
Don November 18, 2011 at 12:14 AM
Anne November 18, 2011 at 08:56 PM
I don't think that anyone is disputing the fact that alternate energy and green living is a thing of the future but I do agree that these things are just plain ugly! Our beautiful suburban neighborhood now looks like you're in an industrial and commercial area. Previous bloggers have stated that you see these panels "everywhere" and 1 in every 5 poles will soon have them. Well billboards and watertowers are everywhere-would you like one in your front yard? If one in every 5 poles is going to have them, why does 5 out of every 5 poles on my block have one? I really think that our local government should be looking out for the preservation of our community. Nobody, not even PSE&G should be able to do what ever they want, where ever they want. I do not want to pay the taxes that I do in West Caldwell to live with looking at these UGLY THINGS in my neighborhood. There are some blocks with not one panel. You can not tell me that property values on these blocks are not going to be higher than blocks with one on every pole!
Don November 19, 2011 at 12:53 AM
Those are small solar panels. They can only generate at the most a hundred or two hundred watts of power, if that. Solar panels used to power highway telephones, etc, are common in rural areas. I think that its ridiculous to promote this as alternative power. Who originated this article? Was it a response to the criticism after the snow and the power outage?
Cj November 19, 2011 at 01:43 PM
Amen to that Anne... I do think eventually all the blocks will have them. I could be wrong. However you are right. They are ugly and they do not help a neighborhood.
j October 14, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Put two or three on every pole-who cares as long as it helps. We can't have everything and NIMBY is a lousy idea. Get over it. I see them every day and, there are a lot more important things to see while driving through and around Elizabeth. Look side to side and tell me ugly solar panels are bad. Grow up.


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