Toys 'R' Us solar installation will offset New York store

The toymaker's new installation in Flanders, N.J., will generate 70 percent of the power needed for the distribution center and result in enough credits to keep the lights on at Times Square retail site.

This week, Toys 'R' Us and solar company Constellation Energy lit up a massive 5.38-megawatt rooftop solar installation at the toymaker's distribution center in Flanders, N.J. The project is one of the largest operational installations in the United States (it IS being called the largest, for now, but I'm being careful with my descriptors).

I find the installation remarkable for another reason: almost three-quarters of the center's electricity needs will be met by the panels, when weather conditions are right.

That's notable to me because often, when I read about solar or renewable energy technology projects, the overall energy that they produce doesn't make as big of an operational impact as the one promised by this one.

Also as a result of the installation and the associated power purchase agreement that made it possible, Toys 'R' Us will receive 7,500 Green-e Certified renewable energy certificates per year over the next three years. Those certificates will be enough to offset the company's store in New York's Times Square, which requires 7.1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year to keep the lights on.

So, in effect, not only is Toys 'R' Us supporting its own commercial solar project on its own behalf, but its power purchase agreement will cover investments in grid-connected solar projects.

The installation includes 37,000 "ultra lightweight" solar panels from UNI-SOLAR, which cover 70 percent of the 1.3 million-square-foot roof. The system has the capacity to produce 6.36 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. The project was structured as a power purchase agreement, which means that Constellation Energy owns the panels and is responsible for keeping them working; the toy company buys back the electricity under a 20-year power purchase agreement.

The companies cite figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimating that the impact of switching this much electricity from non-renewable to renewable sources is roughly equivalent to offsetting 4,387 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

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