HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Toys "R" Us Thursday unveiled a solar power system at its distribution center in Flanders, N.J., a system that gives the company, at least for now, bragging rights to having the largest rooftop solar panel installation in North America and the second-largest in the world.
The solar panels will cover 869,294 square feet of the center's 1.3 million-square-foot roof.
The size of solar installations is measured in the number of megawatts they produce, and the 5.38-megawatt Toys "R" Us installation is larger than all but one other current rooftop system. Wayne, N.J.-based Toys "R" Us may not have that title long -- new and increasingly larger solar installations are being announced every day -- but it's an achievement to be proud of, state officials said.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin praised Toys "R" Us for its energy conservation leadership and said the Christie administration plans to continue to encourage new solar projects, as well as offshore wind energy projects.
"These are the kind of projects we want to bring to the state," Martin said at a ceremony at the Toys "R" Us distribution center. The Christie administration, Martin said, believes solar and wind energy projects also will generate new jobs for the state.
Martin said New Jersey is working to establish the Paulsboro area as a hub for wind energy collection and also to bring more solar-panel manufacturers to New Jersey.
New Jersey currently is second in the country behind California in the number of solar panels that have been installed on businesses and residences.
More than 10,000 solar projects have been installed in New Jersey, with 520 completed in June alone, Martin said.
"What you're seeing is a fairly rapid expansion of the solar industry," with bigger and bigger projects constantly coming online, said Michael Smith, a senior vice president at Constellation Energy, the Baltimore-based company that built, owns and maintains the Toys "R" Us solar power system. Constellation financed the system, and Smith estimated the cost at about $25 million.
The Toys "R" Us project is unusual, Smith said, because it still is relatively rare nationwide to find a roof big enough to hold such a large installation. The system consists of 37,000 panels and covers 20 acres of roof surface, roughly the size of 15 football fields. While there are larger ground-level solar installations in deserts or on undeveloped land, "you don't have many roofs in the country that can support an installation of this size," Smith said.
The installation will provide about 72 percent of the electricity used by the 1.5-million-square-foot distribution center. The facility, used to distribute toys to the retailer's stores, was built in 1995 and has 500 employees.
As part of the Flanders installation, Constellation will designate some of the energy credits generated by the solar system to offset 100 percent of the electricity usage at the Toys "R" Us flagship store in New York's Times Square.
Toys "R" Us Chief Executive Officer Jerry Storch said the Flanders installation is part of a continuous effort by the privately held company to become more sustainable. Toys "R" Us installed its first solar project in January 2010 at a Babies "R" Us store in North Brunswick, N.J. Solar panels were installed at the "R" Superstore in Secaucus, N.J., last spring.
Storch said the project, which was financed completely by Constellation, will allow the company to cut its energy costs, although he could not say the specific amount at this point.
"We will save money, but that's really not the focus," he said. The focus, rather, is to work toward the company's environmental goals, and to look out for children "and make sure the environment is right for them as they grow up," he said. "It's important for kids to see Toys 'R' Us setting an example" for conservation, Storch said.
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